Portrait of the journalist as a young woman

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A student stands on the sidewalk outside of the Cap Bar, with his shadow peeking out in front of him. Photo by Katie Chaikowsky.

Even now, my mother’s voice rings clearly in my head: “People don’t always want to hear what you need to tell them,” she says, her voice stern.

As a child, this was her way of prefiguring an uncomfortable truth.

As a college-age journalist, this statement is now my job.

I love journalism for a plethora of reasons: its verve, its mutability as an art form, and its ability to connect with the human experience.

But most importantly, I admire its capacity for nuanced, storied truth.

Journalism is not a fact sheet or a memorandum, nor is it a conspiracy theory or a short story. It is fact wedded with narrative in an equal partnership. Without fact, the narrative is mere story; without the narrative, the fact is limp and supine.

Integrity is foundational to good journalism. Without integrity, journalists fail to foster relationships of trust and honesty because they themselves do not exercise those virtues in their work.

A good journalist is also courageous, fearless in pursuit of narrative truth.

Armed with such a character, the journalist carves a path in the world, seeking truth and falsehood, justice and injustice, and the spectrum of human existence.

In doing so, the journalist is marked as separate; she or he is both within and without society, a participant and an observer, complicit passer-by and whistleblower. They are both beloved and condemned by their readers, who are pleased to consume words of praise but recoil when the journalist’s pen reveals harsher truths.

Journalists and their sources forge a sacred bond, each entering into the world of the other. Sources, without whom journalism cannot exist, enter into the scope of a journalist when they agree to become a source — the world where everything is colored with the potential to be a story. The journalist, in turn, reveals the experiences they receive, bringing the human condition out of the shadows.

However, the profession of journalism, while laudable, is as human as the stories it writes. It is messy and raw, and certain guidelines must be adhered to.

One of these guidelines is the question of anonymous sourcing. While not ideal, anonymous sourcing is an  increasingly frequent part of journalism.

This issue plagues even our UD Bubble: I can think of at least 3 times in the past five months that a source has asked to remain anonymous or, at the very least, censored their comments. I know other journalists for this publication have encountered similar experiences.

Let me be clear: anonymity is not granted to everyone. The journalist and the editorial staff must know the source; they are granted anonymity in print, but not to the press. This is the difference between the Sept. 5 Op-Ed in The New York Times written by an anonymous “senior official in the Trump administration” and this paper’s refusal to grant anonymity to the individual who authored the #FarewellFarrell petition.

Whatever the circumstances, however, the current climate begets a certain introspection. Why the sudden rise in anonymity? Are we so afraid of our society and our community that we revert to isolation and individualism? In an age of viral Facebook posts, Twitter wars and Instagram influencers — which most of us are all too eager to comment upon online — why do we not translate our Snapchat stories into a story that lasts longer than 24 hours?

The integrity of a journalist is an essential part of keeping stories true, and discerning appropriate circumstances for anonymity is something that is carefully considered by all journalists. If fellow aspiring journalists adhere to the professional standard, perhaps both the quality and the content of journalistic pieces can improve.

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