Questions about journalists’ name changes

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Last week’s shooting has prompted a discussion in the media over news reporters adopting on-air names different from their own.

The shooter in Roanoke, Va. once worked at the WDBJ-TV as a reporter under the name, Bryce Williams. He is real name was Vester Flanagan. His former bosses admitted that they hadn’t done a background check on the Flanagan name, only Bryce Williams.

Mark Feldstein, journalism professor at the University of Maryland, told USA Today that a reporter insisting on using an alias “would immediately raise a red flag.”

“I’d want to know what the explanation is,” he said. “Is there something in the past? Is there a criminal record that they’re trying to evade? Or is it a reflection of some deeply seeded psychological issues that may manifest on the job? Or does it suggest a cavalier attitude toward facts or truth?”

While she saw no problem with journalists using a derivative of their given names to be distinctive or for ease of use, Kelly McBride, who teaches media ethics at The Poynter Institute, said a complete reinvention of one’s identity is a cause for concern.

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