Pollner Professor Cheryl Carpenter: Journalism, and Democracy, Need Anonymous Sources

Photo by Jamie Drysdale.

Cheryl Carpenter, the T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor this semester at the School of Journalism, told a crowded University Center Theater Monday that journalists should use every tool at their disposal, including anonymous sources.

“The more experience I have as an editor and a journalist and a leader of a newsroom, the less likely I am to rely only on rules. I’ve been around supervisors who did manage with rules and in fact, I’ve had employees who wanted rules,” she said. “It’s easier. It’s easier to say to a newsroom: no more anonymous sources.

“And, I would just tell you that I think that that is a simple answer that comes at an astronomical cost of asking someone to suspend their good judgement. You want journalists, you want your good employees, to use their intuition, their experience, their good questions and their gut to figure out fake from real.”

Carpenter, the Washington, D.C. bureau chief for the national news organization McClatchy, talked about her prominent role in the coverage of the Panama Papers and how careful and diligent journalists should be when dealing with leaks and anonymous sources.

“We owe readers this: That when we accept anonymous sources we need to make sure that we are not being used or duped or fooled,” she said.

In her lecture, titled “Confidential Sources: Can Journalism Live Without Them?,” Carpenter also talked about the role of anonymous sources in the Trump era, and the serious responsibility journalists undertake when using them.

“So, while you will hear that reporters and editors cannot be trusted, that what we’re doing is fake, that we’re bad people, let’s all hope and pray that that makes us all more resolved about our mission and in serving readers responsibly,” Carpenter said. “I ask you all this evening: consider the greater good that comes from this messy process called journalism. Know that we serve you better when we use every tool to get to what happened. You should never wish for a more timid press in this country but one that feels responsible to you, and to the distinct and democratic ideals in this great experiment called the United States.”

You can watch her lecture here:

T. Anthony Pollner Lecture_10/16/17_Part1 from Montana Journalism on Vimeo.

T. Anthony Pollner Lecture 10/16/17_Part 2 from Montana Journalism on Vimeo.

And, here are some more photos by Jaime Drysdale from the event:

The School of Journalism created the Pollner professorship in 2001 in memory of T. Anthony Pollner, a UM journalism alumnus who died two years after graduating. The Pollner endowment allows the school to bring a distinguished journalist to campus for a full semester to teach a course and to mentor students at the Montana Kaimin.

UM Homecoming With The J-School, Where You ‘Learn By Doing’

This homecoming, we’re celebrate what makes the J-School so special: learning by doing. The video above from One Acre Films will be screened at the homecoming reception at Don Anderson Hall on Friday. But, we wanted you to get a sneak peek too.

Here’s what’s on tap for 2017 Homecoming at the UM J-School:

Friday, Oct. 13:
2 p.m. —Journalism Alumni Roundtable Discussion, Don Anderson Hall, Room 210
3-4:30 p.m.— School of Journalism Homecoming Reception, Don Anderson Hall, Room 201

Saturday, Oct. 14: 
11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.: J-School Tailgate – BBQ and Beer, South River Bowl Spot #14 (across from the Adams Center parking lot)

JRNL_Homecoming_Postcard_FinalSchool of Journalism Homecoming Events:

Monday, Oct. 16: 
7 p.m. — Annual Pollner Lecture: “What Should the Media Do About Leaks & Anonymous Sources,” presented by 2017 Distinguished Pollner fellow Cheryl Carpenter, University Center Theater

ISO: the perfect metaphor

Science reporters like Olga Kreimer of the Crown Project spend a lifetime searching for the perfect metaphor. Here, Olga talks about her quest, part of the UM J School’s grad program in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism.

One of the more fun parts of learning about science writing is figuring out how to explain it to people who don’t already know terms like “storage coefficient” or “deep alluvial aquifer” — even, and maybe especially, if that person is you. (Er, me.) The last real science class I took was ages ago, so I turned to experts to explain what the heck was going on under the water table in the Flathead Valley.


The next step after my crash course was figuring out how to explain it to readers, and metaphors were the obvious shortcut. Experienced science writers are pros at this — they blend up the complex with the familiar and share something readers can understand without stumbling over. Editors swoon. Light bulbs worldwide ignite overhead. A little bit of universal entropy gets untangled and tamed.


I’ve been trying to do the same over the last few months — with mixed results. Here are just a few of the metaphors I’ve used to explain groundwater hydrology in an underground aquifer:


  • A cake stuck with toothpicks
  • Coffee grounds in a filter
  • An ant farm
  • A chicken stuck with a meat thermometer
  • One of those giant cocktail bowls with a lot of straws in it
  • The dregs of a milkshake
  • The middle of a milkshake
  • Ketchup stuck in a bottle
  • A dish sponge
  • A water balloon
  • A rain gutter
  • Cookie dough


You’ll have to read the published story to see if any of these make it in. (I have my fingers crossed for the chicken.) In the meantime I’ll be over here explaining particle physics with only a blender, a flashlight and a handful of silly putty.