Whistleblowers and their faith in journalism: The (d)evolution of trust among the sources that journalists need most

Paper presented at the  IAMCR (International Association for Media and Communication Research) Conference, originally Beijing, then Tampere, now online) History Division)

Abstract: Using in-depth interviews conducted with 12 U.S. whistleblowers  who contacted the press in the 1970s through the 2010s, this paper examines changing perceptions of the news media and journalists among those who have confided in them and how these views have evolved. I find that trust in individual journalists, more so than in the news organizations they work for, is a consistent theme among all participants. Of all norms, source protection is most valued, followed closely by diligence and the willingness to listen and accept the whistleblower as subject matter expert. While all interviewees believed in the news media as an institution with impact when they blew the whistle, almost all of them expressed a profound lack of faith in today’s press to bring about change, some blaming this on the corporatization of the industry along with a rise in what they call agenda-driven reporting. As austerity measures take hold in newsrooms across the country, this study shines a light on what we stand to lose when newsrooms neglect specialization and beat reporting.

Karin Assmann 

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