How to Talk to a Journalist

Most people have never talked to journalists before – but if you know more about something in the news, or something at your work is bothering you, or a story strikes a chord with your life, you may want to speak to a reporter.

All public interest stories rely on people who are willing to speak out about something bothering them, and many start with a potential source approaching a reporter – if that might be you, please do get in touch, but read the advice below to make sure you have considered and minimised any potential risks to you.

If you want to speak to someone at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, you can get in touch with any of our journalists directly, or if you’re not sure who to speak to, you can email us at our general account at [email protected]. We check this inbox regularly and try to reply to everyone.

We are a small organisation and our kind of reporting takes weeks or months at a time – so we can’t pursue every story we hear about, even if we think that it is important. If your story doesn’t relate to a subject we are already pursuing, you might be best approaching a larger news organisation – but we would be happy to try to point you in the right direction if you’re not sure.

We do not have staff for walk-in appointments so please do not arrive at our offices as we will be unable to see you without an appointment.

Many major stories and investigations start with approaches from people with a story to tell. If you think you might be one of them, please do get in touch.

Protecting your identity

There are lots of reasons you might not want your name attached to your story – especially if you’re talking about your employer, or even about the government.

No reporter or news organisation can offer you a 100% guarantee that they can protect your anonymity, and you should not trust anyone who makes this promise. What good reporters and organisations can do is try everything they can to protect your identity if this is what you want.

If you ask a reporter to keep things “off the record” that is an agreement that they will not use your name or details without your permission. This is taken very seriously by journalists and will only be broken in the most serious of circumstances.

A reporter will use information learned “off the record” to inform their reporting – especially if it can be backed up by documents – and may wish to discuss with you using quotes attributed to “a current employee”, “a former employee” or “someone with firsthand knowledge of the matter”. If you absolutely do not wish to be quoted at all, you should make this clear.

It may be the case that your story could only be told if you go “on the record” – revealing your name and identity – but a good reporter will be happy to chat off the record first, until you build up mutual trust.

For most stories, it is important for the journalist to know the identity of who they are speaking to, even if they keep that confidential from the public. There are, however, rare cases where a source remains anonymous even to the reporter.

Things you can do

In the internet era, there are lots of ways for someone to find out who spoke to a reporter once a story is published. This can be an employer, or someone in your household, or similar.

Generally, if you are trying to give information about your employer, you should never contact a reporter from a work computer, account, or mobile phone. You should only use your personal mobile phone or laptop, and your own email account or number – you can also create a new, anonymous email account for this purpose.

Encrypted messaging apps can often be more secure than email. Common apps many reporters use are WhatsApp, Signal or Keybase. If you’re familiar with using these and have a number for the reporter you are trying to contact, these can be a good approach – otherwise, you can email and set up a conversation on a more secure channel.

Good reporters will try their best to help you protect your identity, but there are limits to what they can do: if your first contact is from a work computer, it is likely they could track that contact. Similarly, if you’re sharing information that only a small number of people know (rather than say, dozens) then that could be traced too.

It is important to think of the risks of speaking to a reporter, what you have done to protect yourself, and how important you think the information you are sharing is.

Public interest journalism relies on people talking to reporters – we hope this guide has helped you make your decision.