"I have a news tip for you, but it isn't about me. I would send it in, but I don't want my name to be in the paper."
So went a conversation with a reader this morning, and it's one I've had countless times over the years. Many people are concerned that any time they speak to a reporter, anything they say may be published.
The question of confidentiality and anonymity is a tricky one for journalists. It's its own big section in The Star's Code of Ethics. One of the most important pieces of advice there to journalists reads:
When you grant someone confidentiality, you are putting your word and The Star's reputation on the line.
Don't let sources use the cloak of anonymity to attack other individuals or organizations.
However, that certainly doesn't mean you can expect anything you say to a journalist to appear in a story, particularly if the reporter hasn't made it crystal clear that you're being interviewed for that purpose. Under the heading of "Deception," the guidelines read:
People being interviewed for news stories should know they are speaking to a reporter and their comments may be published. Using deception to gather news, whether by lying or misrepresentation, is inappropriate under virtually all circumstances.
So the bottom line is that, no, you should never worry that the initial contact to a journalist to offer a story idea will mean you'll be outed as its source. But if the reporting develops to the point where you're a linchpin of the story, the reporter should make it very clear that you'll be named. Only in unusual cases, described in detail in the code, should anonymity be granted. And you should contact me if you feel a reporter or editor has violated any of the rules as laid out there.