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Viewer Spotlight: Steps we take to protect the identity and security of our sources

While we never let sources dictate the facts or purpose of our storytelling, the safety of our sources is always a crucial part of practicing ethical journalism.
Scripps News International Correspondent Jason Bellini, right, records a Ukrainian offensive drone pilot who goes by the callsign "Darwin."
Posted at 3:48 PM, May 24, 2024

We here at Scripps News take a moment each week to respond to some of your feedback on our journalism.

This week, many of you tuned in to our excellent documentary "Darwin's War" from our "In Real Life" series that airs Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Scripps News International Correspondent Jason Bellini takes you inside the secret bunker of a Ukrainian strike battalion and introduces you to a 20-year-old attack drone pilot who goes by the callsign "Darwin."

 In Real Life: Darwin’s War

In Real Life

In Real Life: Darwin’s War

Jason Bellini
8:00 PM, May 19, 2024

A few of you left us feedback with concerns that the details we reported were enough to reveal Darwin's real name and identity or specific strategic locations.

@patriark wrote on YouTube:
"This is a great report, but I think the desk could take some more steps to safeguard the identity of Darwin as well as the physical location. There is a lot of information here that a motivated enemy can use to narrow down personal identity and physical location of these bunkers."

@BancC137 wrote:
"You should be easily able to pinpoint the location of the camp, given by all the information that is provided in the video."

In dangerous or sensitive situations like this one, our source's safety is always front of mind. It's a crucial part of practicing ethical journalism.

While we never let sources dictate the facts or purpose of our storytelling, in this case, international correspondent Jason Bellini worked with a senior Ukrainian public affairs official to make sure the story would not compromise Darwin's safety or mission. Before he began reporting, Jason and his editors agreed to follow certain security-focused guidelines that would not compromise Scripps News' editorial integrity.

That's why we specifically did not show you things like the bunker's exterior. It's also why we blurred images that have the potential to pinpoint filming locations, including certain landmarks and tree lines.

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Darwin and the Ukrainian official agreed that reporting certain basic facts — like Darwin's image and call sign — did not pose an unacceptable security threat. Crucially, it was clear that Darwin understood the risks when he agreed to be part of this report. But he told Jason that he wanted to continue because his story would demonstrate the life and death stakes this war with Russia has created for many young Ukrainians like him.

As Jason previously reported, the stakes could hardly be higher for some of the most vulnerable young people involved. That is why deeply reporting on high-stakes stories like Darwin's — ethically and with great care — is so important to deepening our collective understanding of current events, and sometimes leading to results and impact.

Another one of Jason's investigations, for example, "Ukraine's Stolen Orphans" introduced you to orphans taken against their will across the Russian-Ukrainian border. That story has been honored by The Deadline Club and The New York Press Club. More importantly, the video that appeared in that story is now being considered evidence in a war crimes trial.

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Jason Bellini
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Tell us what you think and leave us a message anytime on our toll-free Scripps News Viewer Hotline at 1-833-4-SCRIPPS. Your input might even be shared on air!