Our View: Anonymity used to keep sources safe

Our View

Occasionally there comes a time when an editorial board of a media outlet must make the difficult choice to rely on anonymous sources. Today, we have made that decision.

In today’s Crimson White, you may read a very long, very in-depth story about hazing in the fraternity community and the University’s attempts to curb it. By publishing this story, we believe we are asking a great deal of trust from you, but we want to assure you that we are not asking you to take a blind leap of faith. Here’s why.

For several editors at the CW this year, this is not unfamiliar territory. We have operated in an information vacuum before and have emerged from those instances with a strong understanding of what it takes to establish the truth of a claim without confirmation from anyone in a position of authority. Indeed, sometimes those in positions of authority must themselves have their information fact-checked, their leadership questioned and their positions contested.

But what if the people with the ability to do just that find themselves incapable of doing so? What if, in this particular instance, professors without tenure feel as though speaking out about the condition of some pledges in their classes could get them fired? What if a pledge himself feels as though he’s risking physical harm by speaking out about hazing?

We find ourselves in that very position today. The environment fostered by the administration and the few men in fraternities who continue to perpetrate dangerous hazing practices at the University has become too toxic for whistle-blowers – they can’t speak out even though they feel a moral imperative to do so because of the fear of the consequences of having their names attached to an issue so volatile.

That’s why you’ll find an anonymous source in today’s Crimson White. It is the last remaining avenue by which our sources can contest the leadership of our administrators when it comes to hazing in the greek community.

The use of anonymous sources is a tool that media outlets have used for decades when they find similar conditions in their communities. And, of course, the CW has its own precedent to follow. When operating in an information vacuum – the territory of “he-said, she-said” statements and a lack of clarity about the facts – we have developed a system by which we believe we can prove the authenticity and reliability of sources and their information. Because we’re asking a great deal of trust from our readers, it’s also our duty to explain that system to you.

Before we publish a story like the one on today’s front page, the CW editorial board comes up with two sets of conditions for the information we expect we’ll receive: “factors” and “elements.” Factors are conditions that are relatively easy to come by in reporting but must all be proven together before the information can be reported as true. Elements are much more difficult to obtain, but prove just one and the information is authenticated.

The factors and elements used to authenticate today’s source are listed below. We have verified at least one element or all factors together.

We feel as though we owe you, our readers, this higher standard of reporting in this situation. Today’s story seriously contests the statements being made by Dean of Students Tim Hebson and Vice President for Student Affairs Mark Nelson, two of the University’s top administrators, about the current situation in the greek community as it attempts to deal with hazing.

Today’s story also illustrates the urgency with which we felt this needs to be addressed. If Hebson and Nelson had not previously heard that pledges have been electing to forgo visits to the hospital because they’re afraid of what a few of their fraternity brothers might do in response, they have now.

We’ll see how they respond.

Our View is the consensus of The Crimson White Editorial Board. Managing Editor Ashley Chaffin did not participate in this editorial.

Factors: – The source cannot have dropped out of pledgeship and still wants to join the fraternity. – The source must be fearing for the well-being of himself or others and have specific reason, such as a threat. – The source must represent a group of pledges, not only himself. – Another pledge must come forward with the source.

Elements: – An active in the source’s fraternity corroborates the accounts. – The source provides official reports: record of a visit to the hospital or clinic, police reports or administrative reports that corroborate the account. – A roommate corroborates the source’s accounts independently.