Navigating agendas and anonymity

By: Cody Boteler, Senior Editor

So for the past week and a half, I’ve tackled this week’s cover story – talking about the differences in pay between faculty and administrative staff. It touches on that and a few other issues, like how raises get determined for university staff, how administrators try to secure funding for their schools and how difficult life can be for adjunct faculty.


I can confidently say that this is the most complex article that I’ve written so far for The Towerlight. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of numbers and a lot of policies to be understood.
I chose to use University System of Maryland Chancellor Bob Caret as a kind of vehicle to direct the article. Though not every section of the story directly involves him, he’s a professor turned big-time administrator, so I felt that it was an apt method.
I’ll say this: Caret knows what he’s doing. When I spoke with him on the phone about the differences between administrative and professorial salary, he was able to speak confidently and give me economically sound answers.
Of course, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a reporter if I had left it at that and taken his word as gospel.
So I did more reporting. I talked to professors and administrators and looked at numbers and databases. I’m not sure how many hours of reporting went into this story, but I do know that it’s only second to the on-the-ground hours I put into reporting on the student-led protest in Baltimore last spring.
While reporting, I got an anonymous email one Friday night. The email told me to consider two certain members of the administration and the salaries they were given for, what the sender thought, were jobs not worth that level of pay.
I thanked the source for bringing those individuals to my attention (and providing data to back up their claims) and then asked the source to identify him or her self. I was willing to grant the source anonymity in publication, but as a reporter, I had to know who it was.
Ethically, I can’t publish information if I don’t know the source of it. If I don’t know the source, I don’t know what kind of agenda a source may or may not have. I tried explaining this to the source, who has not, at the time of writing, responded to my last email.
I have my suspicions about who the mystery source is. I’m in no place to say, though. That would make me a really, really bad reporter.
So, since the source would not identify him/her self, I couldn’t ethically use the information they provided me. The cases that the source provided me were compelling, sure, but not compelling enough for me to lose my independence from outside influence by using a source who’s agenda I did not know or could not infer.
I’ve got a cool job. I love reporting. But it is just plain strange, sometimes. I didn’t ever expect an anonymous, late-night email, but here we are.

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