By ALEXANDER B. PEARCE
It is not a journalist’s place to judge as much as it is to expose the truth to the greater public so that readers and viewers may make their own decisions with as much information as possible.
To expose the truth, reporters occasionally have to interact with people beyond the realms of polite society such as criminals. As an unavoidable aspect of working in journalism, it is up to each individual reporter to look out for him or herself while dealing with potentially dangerous sources.
First and foremost, journalists should remember that their safety should come before the story. Many zealous newshounds are quick to jump at the chance of getting a hot story, but they should be wary of what kinds of situations they will be dealing with to get it.
When dealing with individuals of dubious character, such as drug dealers or gang members, journalists should make their business obvious while maintaining a cool, professional demeanor. Reporters are not fishing for information to turn over to the authorities and will go to great lengths to protect their sources. This should be made abundantly clear to whomever questions the validity of a journalist’s work and backed up with credentials when possible.
Currently there is no national shield law that guarantees a journalist’s right to protect sources, but many states have some version of the law. Knowing your rights as a journalist will be key in dealing with people who have something to lose should their names get out.
Anonymity, while the bane of many journalists who seek to provide as much information as possible, is a valid tool for use in cases dealing with potentially dangerous sources. Simply stating that a source is a member of a certain group could be enough to lend credibility to a direct quotation or information, depending on the story.
Journalists working in dangerous areas or beats should acquaint themselves with the International News Safety Institute. The INSI is dedicated to the protection of journalists in the field, especially those working out of danger zones. The advice and article on this site should prove useful to any reporter looking to make him or herself more aware of the risks they deal with on a daily basis.
Journalism can be an extremely enjoyable and fulfilling career, but it is not without risks. When dealing with sources who might not have their best interests in mind, reporters should be ever-vigilant toward threats they come into contact with while working.