This week, the Orient interviewed the student behind Not Bowdoin College, an anonymous Twitter account that parodies the College’s official feed. With 124 followers the voice behind @notbowdoin has earned a modicum of online celebrity through its brand of mockery. In its creator’s eyes, maintaining anonymity helps ensure that Not Bowdoin College’s criticism of Bowdoin can stand for the views of its followers rather than the gripes of one individual. Satiric Twitter accounts abound, and can put pressure on institutions and political figures in a way that is off-limits to other forms of media—like, for instance, the Orient. Though the persona of @notbowdoin may enjoy some Oz-like power behind its curtain of anonymity, as a news organization, we hold ourselves to a higher standard.
People in the position of purveying information should strive for transparency, though anonymity may allow people to speak candidly about issues in a way they might not if they had to identify themselves.
The Orient does not publish anonymous content in print, though we have been reviewing how we will apply this policy to our online platforms. Earlier this month, we posted an anonymous letter to the editor on the Orient Express blog that criticized the football coaching staff for the team’s losing record. The post was accompanied by an editor’s note stating that the letter’s statistics had been fact-checked by the Orient editors, and provided the sender’s dead-end email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. In retrospect, we believe we made a mistake in publishing this anonymous email instead of turning the information into a sourced article.
When we have a story in which sources will not speak on the record—such as this week’s interview with the student behind Not Bowdoin College—our policy is that the reporter must know the name of the source and share it with the editors-in-chief for verification purposes, and must indicate in the article why the source wished to remain unnamed. In our reporting, we adhere to the New York Times’ principle that “the use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers reliable and newsworthy.” The entirety of the Orient’s ethics policy is available on our website.
The Orient is always reluctant to grant anonymity in reporting, but we recognize certain, narrow circumstances in which little is to be gained by naming individual students. We have a policy, for example, of not printing the names of students who are summonsed for alcohol violations because, in almost every case, that information is not valuable to the general community. As a student-run newspaper, we empathize with and understand the concerns of our peers who request that their names not be attached to sensitive stories or to those that may cause a loss of livelihood after graduation. But as the Bowdoin College newspaper of record, we are responsible for covering news that is relevant to the Bowdoin community, and our first obligation is to the truth.
Internet archives are vast and instantly accessible. An impolitic remark made to a reporter might remain linked to your online profile for the indeterminate future. This is the reality of journalism in the 21st century, and it makes the task of getting reliable sources on the record all the more challenging. But the resources of the Internet have also all but eliminated excuses for sloppy reporting, and ensure that editors, reporters, and their subjects are held accountable.
In one form or another, we are all on the record.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is composed of Claire Aasen, Erica Berry, Linda Kinstler, and Eliza Novick-Smith.
Editor's note: The original version of this editorial mistakenly claimed that @bowdoincollege—the College's official Twitter feed—follows @notbowdoin. The College's official Twitter account is not listed as one of @notbowdoin's followers, and the online version has been modified to correct this inaccuracy.