Blowback: Is it unfair to use anonymous sources?
My story Sunday about tensions between parents with small kids and other folks in public spaces generated a lot of comments and email, but the reaction that took me by surprise was a call from Mel Antonen, the father in Lincoln Park who I led the story with. Most of the comments I received from readers were sympathetic to him; after all, his three-year-old was jumped by a dog that wouldn't back off.
So I was surprised when Antonen told me he was upset about the way he was portrayed. Antonen, who happens to be a veteran journalist, made some valid points and raised important questions about the use of anonymous sources.
Q: What upset you most about how you appeared in the story?
A: There was some form of miscommunication with the reporter. I thought the story was about dog-child safety, not rights of parents and whether or not they can bring strollers into certain businesses and all of that.. I think those are separate stories. I was protecting my son from an unleashed dog. I didn't expect to be hammered by an unnamed woman who didn't have the courage to give her name. And, I didn't get a chance to respond, and that wasn't fair. I would have said that a 3-year-old boy's safety is more important than a dog running illegally through the park. I wanted to say that dogs and children are self-policed well at the park, and that the incident with my son, Emmett, was the first I have seen, and that woman was disrespectful, but not a snapshot of a typical dog owner on the Hill.
[The owner of the dog that jumped Antonen's son said some pretty inflammatory things about how people with children are "tyrants," and she asked to be quoted only by her first name because she didn't want to be seen as hostile to children.]
Q: What are your thoughts about quoting the dog owner without using her last name?
A: Quoting an unnamed source presents more questions than answers. It makes readers wonder why she won't give her full name instead of thinking of the issue at hand. I know there are times when anonymous sources are needed, but a dog-in-the-park story doesn't qualify.
Q: What do you think I could have done better in reporting the story?
A: The reporter was professional in every way and I respect that she has the courage to let me second-guess. A better example for her story would have been the parents that aren't watching their children, who then sometimes run up to dogs and provoke them. But, overall, the story created good public discussion, and that is the most important thing.
| May 18, 2010; 12:46 PM ET
Categories: The Blowback | Tags: Journalism sourcing, Lincoln Park
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