The other day, I received a handwritten letter in the mail. The writer commented on a story I had written and apparently wanted to shed more light on the issue.
The writer was anonymous.
"You already know my name, but to know my name, I need to know I can trust you," the person wrote.
So the writer proposed a way for me to find out who he or she was. We're not talking Deep Throat here.
"On Wednesday morning, Aug. 28, 2013, at 11 a.m., have a woman stand out in the parking lot. Call out, 'What's your name?' Have her respond, 'You know my name,' then hand her a piece of paper."
If this plan confuses you, you're not alone. I'm not sure what role I would play in this scenario. Do I hand her the piece of paper? Or is that the mysterious person's job?
In the news business, we deal with anonymous sources a lot. Occasionally, a caller will ask whether we are on a secure line. I assure the caller that we are. (Although, in these days of NSA snooping, how can I be so sure?)
When I worked at another newspaper, a man called me about a police scandal and told me to go to the front door. I did. He walked up, shoved paperwork in my hand, turned around and headed off. No conversation. No eye contact.
He didn't need to go to such lengths. In the news business, we're committed to keeping identities secret if our sources request it.
We very rarely include anonymous sources in our stories because we like to be open with our readers about where our information comes from.
But we listen to such sources. They provide us tips about what to look for. Or they hand us crucial documents. Often, they're government workers who fear they'll lose their jobs if they're revealed as whistleblowers.
For government agencies, we have the state Freedom of Information Act as a tool. But officials often delay releasing information that will embarrass them. Or they'll enlist lawyers to find any imagined loophole to avoid disclosing records.
So anonymous sources come to the rescue.
David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525.