Ombudsmen: A two-way street

Dec. 18, 2006, midnight | By Jon Berger, Jordan Fein | 17 years, 5 months ago

The relationship between a reporter and a source is founded on mutual trust. Reporters must trust their sources to provide accurate information, and in return, sources must trust reporters to represent them fairly. But before a source, whether anonymous or named, consents to appear in a story, he or she must always weigh the potential consequences of that decision.

"Going on the record" authorizes a reporter to publish the source's name and the information he or she provides. The reporter should never take quotes out of context or misrepresent a source's opinions, and Silver Chips staff members always take that responsibility very seriously. Additionally, reporters must clearly introduce themselves as such before the start of an interview, or information from the interview cannot be used in the story.

Although the reporter should remind their sources to consider the possible consequences of revealing information, the decision ultimately lies with the source. Make sure you consider all parental or disciplinary consequences. Know, too, that newspaper testimony is not probable cause for police arrest, since journalists are not law-enforcement investigators, but it could prompt the police to open their own inquiry.

Although sources alone decide what information to provide and the reporter is not responsible for anticipating consequences on their behalf, Silver Chips staffers often decide to omit a piece of source testimony even when they have permission to use it. Reporters frequently exceed their professional obligation to their sources by looking out for their protection.

Ideally, Silver Chips would like every source to be on the record in order to make our stories more accountable and credible. But we realize that many potential sources could face serious consequences from parents, the administration or the police should they appear by name. The two options for such a source are either to speak to the reporter on "background" or to remain anonymous. When a source is on background, the reporter may investigate the background source's testimony through other avenues, but the reporter cannot name or quote the background source. Anonymous sources appear in the paper under a fake name, but with their information unchanged and their quotes preserved exactly as he or she said them.

In most cases, consent is solely the student's decision as long as they can understand the ramifications of that decision. There is no official "age of consent" below which a reporter would have to ask the source's parents before using his or her information. Reporters, however, must always use their best judgment in determining whether or not a source understands the potential consequences of going on the record. The school administration cannot legally prevent a source from appearing in the newspaper if that source is willing.

Silver Chips reporters always keep their sources' interests at heart, at times choosing not to print potentially harmful information, even when given permission. It's a natural tendency to want to talk to a reporter who is so enthusiastic and eager to hear what you have to say. But each source must weigh the consequences of his or her statements by deciding what information may get them in trouble and what information is safe to reveal before speaking to a reporter.

Jon Berger. Jon Berger is a junior in the magnet. He likes ipods, poker, mountain biking, Batman, and listing some of his favorite bands. So : Fugazi, GY!BE, Kid Dynamite, At the Drive-In, Comeback Kid, Envy, Christie Front Drive, Rites of Spring, Neutral Milk Hotel, Hot Cross, … More »

Jordan Fein. Jordan Fein is a magnet senior (woot!) who is enamored of politics and journalism. He is very politically active and enjoys talking politics with whomever is willing. Politics, politics, politics. He is looking forward to his second year of writing on Silver Chips and especially … More »

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