There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to anonymous sources in news stories. The Canadian Association of Journalists has some guidelines, so too does the Canadian Press and the Associated Press. They stress the importance of having named sources and getting sources to understand the importance of attaching their name to a story for credibility. But in our piece about Pedro and Mary’s experiences with police and child protective services, we really deliberated over this decision.
There is no traditional reason to not attach their real names. But their story is one of a series of systemic cascading failures in our traditional institutions. How exactly could we justify inflexibility after hearing their story? With both parents actively looking for work, they’re facing struggles right now. If a potential employer were to Google either of their real names, as part of routine pre-interview job screening, would our story further hinder their ability to find employment?
If Pedro or Mary had stable employment, with a good employer who knew and understood their history, we may have pushed back against a request for anonymity. But because they’re still struggling, we decided to allow it, in order to make sure we weren’t further harming the family by telling their story. It means we had to work harder to corroborate their story, but hey, that’s the job.
The other reason we decided to allow anonymity is because they requested it. Neither were comfortable telling their full story with names attached, because their experiences have taught them the systems designed to help frequently do more harm than good. Had we insisted on using their real names they would not have told us their story. That leads to bigger questions about what stories we’re not hearing by forcing the marginalized and the vulnerable to attach their names to stories of oppression? Is that also a way that we in the media perpetuate these systems of oppression?
Those are larger questions than we’re able to deal with here at Committee Trawler but this story felt too important to not be told, and we wouldn’t have been able to share it without the anonymity granted to the family. Sometimes it’s more important to tell the story than expose those who had to endure it.