When checking out my hometown newspaper for our error correction assignment, I found a different story than I was anticipating. A few weeks ago, Wallingford, Conn. police received a complaint about Nazi and Confederate items being sold at a popular local flea market.
The Record-Journal article on the complaint quoted the complainant, who asked to remain anonymous. The reason given for allowing the source to remain anonymous was that he feared backlash for his complaint. Newspapers should use caution when allowing a source to hide their identity. A case where the information provided is very sensitive might warrant anonymity, but a desire to have a source as part of the story shouldn’t outweigh the need for transparency with the audience.
The article did give some identifying details about the source; that he was Jewish and a town resident. This could be a strategy to add some credibility when using an anonymous source.
What would be the significance of leaving the man out of the story completely because he wanted to remain anonymous? The Record-Journal could have instead focused the article on what was found at the flea market and the police’s response. Would this have changed the truth of the story or its journalistic purpose?
The incident gained some national attention with Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh commenting on the story. The Record-Journal also covered this in terms of a debate about free speech and symbols. I found this aspect of the story to be more interesting that the fact of the complaint.
This follow-up article addresses the issue of free speech rights brought up by the original complaint about Nazi and Confederate memorabilia.
The original article did not contain any photos or detailed descriptions of the memorabilia. This could be one way to deal with offensive or sensitive topics. This would be an especially important discussion when dealing with these particular symbols, in light of recent events in Charleston, which the second article addresses. The newspaper might consider if photos or other descriptions of these symbols might offend their readers and need to find the best way to minimize harm in this situation.