I returned to my office from vacation last week to what has become an annual tradition: an envelope, sans return address, mailed to my office with my name on it.
As with the others I received the past few years, it contained a letter listing a long string of grievances, complaints and accusations against some of the coaches in this town.
This one, unlike the others in past years, listed a name at the bottom. Just as the others did, however, it contained no way to speak to the author of the concerns and just as easily could have been a fake name.
Removing my general worries about opening unmarked envelopes, this letter -- as with the others -- put me in a tough position. While some of the items on the list can be dismissed relatively quickly, some do cause genuine concern, and I'd like to follow up with the multitude of questions I developed as I read through it.
Unfortunately, anonymous or semi-anonymous manifestos do me little good. Why an email address or phone number to follow up can't be included has baffled me, and left me wondering what they expect me or anyone else at my paper to do. Those behind the concerns can speak to myself or any other reporter while remaining anonymous as we work to gather background information, but that currently seems to be an impossible task.
Claims like this, with little evidence included, make them nothing more than libel for a newspaper to print. Bringing them up to the accused, as unfounded accusations, can leave myself or any other writer in quite the troublesome position. While sources don't always need to be named, in order to remain anonymous they must be vetted by a writer before carrying on any further. To do otherwise would be risking one’s reputation and possibly their employment, especially with our current president influencing a trend of claiming anything negative is fake news.
More than ever, journalists need to take the extra step to leave no doubt what they choose to print is factual, thoroughly researched and trustworthy. I, or any other reporter, wouldn’t be doing my job otherwise.
If those responsible for sending these to my office truly are concerned with actions they have witnessed, I ask you to stand by it. Put your name to the claims, simply to add credence to them. If you say there’s evidence of what you claim, provide it rather than say you have seen it. No one, especially newspapers, should be basing their beliefs on hearsay.
Create an email, one you can create specifically for interactions with myself or another reporter, at which I can follow up with you. Mine is easily attainable and the best way to contact me. Suggest immediately you’d like to keep your name away from anything going forward, but allow me to have a conversation with you.
If you are as concerned as the letter makes you appear to be, this should be an easy concession to make. Otherwise, the letter will end up with the others, filed away to refer to when another one arrives, but for all intents and purposes, useless.