Anonymous sources are risky. On one hand anonymous figures can damage a journalistic outlet’s reputation. On another hand anonymous sources are the lifeline of a story. So what does a reporter do if he needs to disseminate information but the only way to do so is through an anonymous source?
Brennan Dubose, an aspiring broadcast journalist and Columbia University Communications graduate student, has had his share of experiences where he was faced with the choice of using an anonymous source or not. “There had been a couple of instances where I have had a source that wanted to speak freely on a topic but did not want their identities revealed. For video footage I just recorded and presented things other than the subject. If the subject were to speak I would only use the voice in the video.”
This method is used a lot in the media today. If not in the same manner as Dubose mentions there are also other methods of documenting an anonymous figure. Some news outlets actually broadcast a video showing the unnamed from behind, with a blurred face, or only parts of the body, along with the voice. In other cases another method is to manipulate the subject’s voice along with blurring his or hers image. Some stories are so exclusive that an outlet sees it as more advantageous to go with an anonymous source.
An American Journalism Review article reported on an Ohio University Journalism professor that conducted a survey amongst a number of editors. The results found that most of the editors “said competition forced them to use unnamed sources”.
The article goes on to say that “Defenders of confidential sources say they bring to light important stories that otherwise would never surface. If used carefully, they say, unnamed sources are a valuable tool.” As Dubose informs “sometimes its better to just get the story; nameless source or not. Then just go extra hard to support that information and get more than enough information from the source so that you have a way to cover your behind should your superiors look to you with concern.”