Teaching Journalism Students about Confidential Whistleblower Sources: An Analysis of Introductory News Writing Textbooks

Document Type


SoTL Discipline

Arts and Humanities

Publication Date



Whistleblowers are a key journalistic source for many current news stories. However, reporters pursuing these major stories must navigate the dilemma between transparent full disclosure and protecting their confidential source. Professional journalists begin their journey as students, and students begin their journey in the classroom with a teacher and a textbook. But are journalism students being trained to deal effectively, and sensitively, with a whistleblowing source who may bring complex needs and difficulties to the news gathering process? This study explores how contemporary introductory news writing textbooks tackle issues surrounding the use of unnamed whistleblower sources. Beginning with a quantitative analysis as its foundation, the study explores, qualitatively, the advice being offered to students on how to handle these sources. We suggest that there are a number of important gaps that characterize textbooks when it comes to whistleblowing and associated concepts, with scant attention being paid to, for example, differentiation among varying types of anonymous source, the contextualization of a whistleblower's unique circumstances, and the potential of positive source motivation. Suggestions are included for enhancing textbook content in this important area. (Contains 1 endnote and 5 tables.)


This article was published in Journal of College Teaching & Learning. Vol. 8, Number 10. (2011).