Whistleblowers and their faith in journalism

Karin Assmann. “Whistleblowers and their faith in journalism,” Journalism Practice (forthcoming).

Abstract: Reporters, to enact their role as watchdogs and their commitment to uncovering corporate or governmental wrongdoing, often must rely on individuals willing to risk their careers and reputations, at times their lives, to expose their employers’ malfeasance. Some whistleblowers turn to the news media to get their messages and stories out. This is often a leap of faith that implies a level of trust in journalists and in their outlet’s adherence to their normative roles. This study explores whistleblowers’ perceptions of the news media as they recall crossing over from the employer’s institutional logic to journalism’s institutional logic. In-depth interviews conducted with 16 U.S. whistleblowers who contacted journalists from the 1970s through the 2010s, find that trust in individual journalists is a consistent theme. Of all norms, participants most valued source protection and accuracy, followed by a reporter’s expertise and willingness to listen. Almost all interviewees lack faith in the impact of today’s press. As austerity measures take hold in newsrooms across the country, this study shines a light, from the source’s perspective, on what will likely be lost if newsrooms neglect beat reporting and overlook the specter of government surveillance and control.