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Granting a pseudonym

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by champ_kind, May 20, 2020.

  1. champ_kind

    champ_kind Active Member

    Got out of newspapers years ago, but when I moved to an expensive part of the country, I took a day job writing and editing for a business mag (very helpful now that booking travel for people is no longer a thing that happens). Real journalism is not something we often do. But healthcare is one of the industries we cover, so I've been interviewing frontline doctors and nurses about their experiences. One is an ER nurse in Boston who did a video diary for a morning show that garnered her some death threats. My boss is OK with giving her a pseudonym but is also not a journalist.

    What say real (former) journalists? I'm worried the same people who would threaten an ER nurse would also be quick to accuse us of fabricating the whole thing if we say this is not her real name.
  2. Mngwa

    Mngwa Active Member

    Protect your source.
    OscarMadison, wicked and Liut like this.
  3. champ_kind

    champ_kind Active Member

    Yeah, I definitely am OK with giving her a pseudonym if we use her in the story. Just wondering if anyone thinks I should leave her out altogether. Seems impossible to report this story without someone finding an excuse to label it fake news.
  4. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    Maybe I am misunderstanding the issue, but I wouldn't use a fake name for someone and not tell the readers it isn't a real name.

    Do that, and that is where you are actually entering the realm of "fake news."

    If you want to protect her, it's fair to quote her anonomously. Or, if you must, give her a fake name in your story, specify that it isn't her real name and give the reason why you changed her name.

    As long as she really exists and what you are writing is accurate, you are doing you readers right that way.
  5. champ_kind

    champ_kind Active Member

    I definitely plan to say it's not her real name and explain why. I just fear that will lead to some readers automatically deciding that I made up a character and some juicy quotes to put in her mouth.

    Having never granted someone a pseudonym before, I was curious to see how others felt about it/whether they agreed this met the threshold for doing it.
    OscarMadison likes this.
  6. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    You always run the risk with anonymity that people will question the source or the story. I know we're not talking about Ben Bradlee's Washington Post here, but still, it's why granting anonymity should always be considered carefully -- more carefully than it often is nowadays. It can make people suspicious and open you up to being accused of having made things up.

    You already said she's integral to the story, though, so it sounded like the pros outweigh the cons.
  7. Twirling Time

    Twirling Time Well-Known Member

    My first job as an SE, we had a freelance photographer who was on disability and wasn’t sure whether his working would mess it up. So we created a pseudonym using his middle name and a version of his first name.
  8. champ_kind

    champ_kind Active Member

    Appreciate it. Yeah, she's the only person I've been able to talk to from an especially hard-hit part of the country, and I think it merits leaving her in with a pseudonym and explanation. Since my editor isn't really an editor and I'm pretty much a one-man shop due to layoffs, I wanted to get some outside perspective.
  9. JPsT

    JPsT Member

    Who gives a f*** what those people think? They're not going to believe your story no matter what you do unless it fits into their narrative.

    She has a legitimate reason for not wanting her name out there, but you have a way to still present her perspective to your audience.
  10. wicked

    wicked Well-Known Member

    I assume you’re not referencing her TV segments? Otherwise you’re pretty much outing her.

    We’re paid (poorly) to take crap from the public and we expect it. Spare the ER nurse some grief from the crazies.
    OscarMadison and cjericho like this.
  11. champ_kind

    champ_kind Active Member

    No. What I have is XXX Magazine granted her anonymity because a previous interview she gave led to harassment.

    I reworked the lede because it originally talked about how she worked in NYC during Hurricane Sandy and was there during 9/11 and some other identifying details. She is comfortable with me saying she works in a Level 1 trauma center in Boston.

    You may be familiar with this particular crazy.
    Last edited: May 21, 2020
  12. Dan Omlor

    Dan Omlor New Member

    Many famous writers used a pseudonym for various reasons. Most of us know that Mark Twain was a river term meaning "mark two" when calling out depth. He published under that name for years. But his real name was Samuel Clemens. No one with an IQ cares. So, Yes, use the pseudonym. When I was growing up, our local newspaper ran columns for years, one on politics, one on sports. They were great columns with legitimate insights. I grew up assuming they were real people and learned a lot from reading their columns. It wasn't until I was back from college interning at the paper that I learned the mystery sports columnist was really the high school football coach I'd played for, and the mystery political columnist was really the mayor. I kept that secret until long after they retired. Readers gained from reading them and no one was hurt by it. The purpose of a publication is to inform. The means by which you do it is irrelevant.
    OscarMadison likes this.
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