Maybe I feel so strongly about this because all the words I write, and all the decisions I make in writing those words on these pages, right or wrong, come with my name attached.
And I don’t pretend I am always right. I’ve misspelled names, misunderstood rules and laws, forgotten to put scores of games in stories (usually my editors catch that error for me, thankfully), and simply phrased things poorly. All those mistakes are highly public, and published corrections often follow.
So when I get allegations or complaints via anonymous email or comment, or someone sends out an anonymous letter to community members making accusations about a sports program (as is now the case at Vergennes Union High School), I find it particularly ... well, cowardly, among other things.
On the other hand, legitimate comments and complaints are more than welcome.
For example, I’m still not sure if I handled the story about the VUHS boys’ basketball championship game properly or not; there were tricky issues involving racial perceptions as well as a possibly unfair competitive advantage gained by the other school in the final.
One commenter on our website attached his name to his remarks and made some fair points. We went back and forth there respectfully and exchanged opinions. I thought it a valuable exchange.
On the other hand, more recently I got an email from an anonymous “Concerned Reader” that included a series of unfounded assumptions. I could only shoot off a response into the void; it was probably a waste of time. There was no dialogue, no value to the interaction.
Look, I understand the need for people to conceal their identities from the public in some cases. For example, if someone approached me and said, look, there are real problems at a local athletic department I wish to discuss, this is who I am but you cannot reveal my identity, I would listen. And maybe even base some investigation and reporting on what I was told.
If a reporter gets a phone call or comes across an anonymous letter making allegations, it is much harder to take seriously.
Of course, the recent VUHS letter I came across wasn’t the first, and sadly probably won’t be the last, anonymous attempt to make a coach or a program look bad.
A decade ago another disgruntled individual sent out an anonymous letter listing all the parents of the participants in one school’s basketball program, making it look like all felt their children were being disrespected and treated poorly.
Ninety-nine percent of them didn’t even know the letter had been sent. We didn’t dignify it by reporting on it. I gave it to the parents who were being dragged through the mud to let them handle it.
None of this is to say there are never problems with coaches, administrators or, again of course, writers.
And there are different problems and no doubt different ways to deal with them.
But none of the right ways involve hiding an identity.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.