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2 minutes reading time (450 words)

How to work with an anonymous source

I want to hear from anonymous sources, but I also want to know who you are.

Arlington Newspapers, 1871-2005Click image to access >>

Tips are the lifeblood of journalism. Accuracy keeps the blood's color deep and rich.

The information you provide has to be verifiable fact. You have to be verifiable, too.

When you send me a tip, I will ask how you know what you claim to know. Eventually, I will also ask you who you are.

Verifiable facts will be published. Your identity, if confirmed, will not be.

Consider one example. I recently received a tip that an Arlington police officer, whom the tipster named, had been shot in the head the previous August weekend and was undergoing treatment at Mass. General Hospital.

I asked the tipster how he knew what he claimed. He responded that he has friends on the APD who he knows from high school. So the tipster was reporting a claim he allegedly heard from Arlington officers. The tipster provided no other details about the alleged shooting. He did offer other opinions, which I choose not to report.

I checked the Arlington police log, a listing of police activity in town, for the dates when the alleged shooting may have occurred. Nada. It might have occurred in another municipality, but Boston area media reported nothing of the kind for that weekend.

I reached out to those in the Police Department authorized to speak about such matters, and I have had no responses. I usually do -- one way or another.

Does that mean the allegations about a shot officer are true? It does not. Could police discount the matter as a rumor? If it is a rumor, they could. Does the lack of response mean anything? It might, but a lack of response from a public agency usually fuels speculation. I try not to publish speculation.

Last weekend, I spoke with a town resident who knows Arlington officers well, including their families. This person, who I have long known and trusted, told me that she heard nothing about the shooting of an APD officer. Nor had the officer's mother.

I have told the original tipster that I cannot confirm his claims for publication. I also asked him for his real name, which might differ from the one provided in his Gmail to me.

If he responds, I will update this column, noting the fact -- but I will not reveal the source's name.

Do you know something about Arlington that you think others should know? Let me know. Right here >> 

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