Six days ago, a group of fraternity pledges sent the University of Alabama’s Crimson White newspaper an anonymous email saying that “we can no longer take the brutality of pledgeship and something must be done.”
Today the paper runs a story about hazing in which an unnamed pledge, representing the letter-writers, describes what goes on inside of frat houses. For example, he tells reporter Ashley Chaffin:
You can be forced to drink – a lot. Well, it’s probably eight or nine beers, but it’s in like half an hour. So you don’t really get drunk, you just can’t physically keep the carbonation in your stomach and you have to throw it up. …
I can’t see myself, like, doing this back. After feeling what it’s like, I wouldn’t want to ruin a kid’s first semester.
The paper also runs a 12-paragraph editorial today explaining why it’s using an anonymous source for the hazing story:
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.
* Fraternity pledge details University of Alabama’s culture of hazing (cw.ua.edu)
* Editorial: Anonymity used to keep sources safe (cw.ua.edu)
* Earlier: Crimson White staffer explains the five stages of life as a copy editor (jimromenesko.com)
UPDATE: I asked Crimson White editor-in-chief Will Tucker about his paper’s anonymous source policy. His response is after the jump.
“We generally don’t use unnamed sources in our stories, and it’s a matter of editorial discretion. We’ve used anonymous sources before, but as I hoped to impart on the reader in our editorial, I think the instances in which reporters today rely on anonymous sources should be few and far between.
“That’s because I think people today, and particularly members of my generation, have literally endless opportunities to be anonymous through social media and the Internet. That results in anonymity appearing everywhere. For instance, anyone who follows a satirical Twitter account sees an “anonymous source” every day on their Twitter timeline. Don’t get me wrong–I very much support the right of anyone to connect to the internet and exercise their free speech as an anonymous user.
“But since we’re inundated with anonymity every day, especially those of us on social media all the time, journalists have to have higher standards. If we used anonymous sources any more than we absolutely have to, we’d risk losing the trust of our readers, which should be the most valuable thing to us, in my opinion.
“There are situations that absolutely require anonymity as a tool, and this situation is one. And now, since we haven’t used anonymous sources yet this year, I feel comfortable asking our readers to trust us. That’s because our source could face physical harm for speaking out if he were to reveal his identity, yet he feels morally obligated to do something. So, to answer your question, there hasn’t been any policy in place, but I have used editorial discretion up to this point and decided against using unnamed sources until now.”