Q: "Recently, the New York Times published an anonymous op-ed from a high-ranking government official. If a government official approached you to publish an anonymous op-ed on a local or national level, would you? Why or why not?".

Author:Pike, Julie
Position:Critical thinking: J-school students and industry vets tackle the tough questions
 
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A: It's a leap of faith for an editor of a newspaper to quote an anonymous source in an article. It's an even bigger leap for an editor to publish an op-ed by an anonymous writer.

When it's a news article, readers are given other sources and context to provide credibility to the story. In the case of an anonymous oped, such as the one in the New York Times, readers can't be sure of whom to trust if they have only an anonymous writer to rely on.

Do they trust the anonymous source who claims to be a high-ranking government official? Do they believe the editor, who knows the identity of the source, to publish stories by credible people?

In this tough ethical situation, an editor needs to consider the motivation of an anonymous writer. Ask the questions: Why does this person need to be anonymous? What kind of response are they hoping to get? Is it essential for our readers to know this? Is it worth it to risk our readers' trust to publish this?

There won't be many situations where the answer to that last question is yes.

While the anonymous op-ed in the New York Times did certainly spark a reaction from the public and the White House, I question whether it's going to cause any true change in how Americans feel about the future of their country.

It can be assumed that this writer believes they are "doing what is best for their country," and they want to inform the public without losing their job. However, they could have continued along with their efforts without going public.

Since the writing in question is a personal opinion, the author should be confident enough to put their name on it. Otherwise, their opinion means nothing, and is not worth publishing.

As an editor of my college newspaper, I want anyone willing to share their opinions to be prepared to stand their ground. If they fear they may lose their job in response, then it's not the best idea to publish a piece of personal writing to the public.

Julie Pike, 21 senior, University of Southern Maine (Portland, Maine)

Pike is a communications major and editor-in-chief of the Free Press, the student-run newspaper of USM.

A: I would not have run the anonymous op-ed the New York Times printed about a group in the White House protecting the country from Donald Trump.

It's bad for the country. It feeds into a misleading Trump narrative. It's bad for journalism as a whole. But mostly, it's horrible for the New York Times. (Full disclosure: I love the Sunday New York Times so much my daughter...

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