Granting anonymity while covering mental health and teens

In November, ProPublica and THE CITY published a story about  three New York City teenagers who struggled to get mental health services that the city’s public schools are legally obligated to provide. The teens in the story were granted anonymity. The SPJ Code of Ethics says journalists should “identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.” However, when writing about minors and sensitive subjects like mental health, it is important to minimize harm. The article’s author Abigail Kramer writes, “We followed families’ stated preferences for their children’s privacy. But in doing so, we wrestled with difficult questions about how to best serve readers and the kids we were writing about.” When promising anonymity, the Code says journalists should “consider sources’ motives.” Kramer decided to err on the side of caution and allow the teens to remain anonymous, because she was “writing about some of the most intimate, painful moments in the lives of people who aren’t old enough to give informed consent.” Her decision aligns with the minimize harm principal of the Code. It states journalists should “show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent.”