Advice for whistleblowers: how to approach the media

Blowing the whistle in the media can have a hugely positive impact. After Desiree Fixler, head of sustainability at the asset management giant DWS, accused her company of greenwashing, regulators in the US and Europe launched investigations and the chief executive resigned. The episode is thought to have prompted regulators to clamp down on greenwashing more broadly – potentially transforming the entire financial industry for the good of the planet.

Fixler is not alone. It is common for someone to be happy in their job and yet uncomfortable with certain aspects of it – and to want those troubling details out in the open. What’s concerning you may be something specific to your organisation, or it may be a common practice in your industry that could be stopped or better regulated if people knew about it.

But it can be daunting to raise those concerns within your organisation, and with good reason. You might fear being branded a troublemaker, or feel unable to question something that appears to be standard practice. In those circumstances, another option is to approach the media.


The first thing to know is that going to the media does not mean your name will be made public.

Journalists are always keen on speaking to people “off the record” – which means nothing you say to them can be published. Off-the-record conversations are vital for journalists because they tell them where a big story might be, and where they should start looking for evidence.

It was conversations like this with bankers that prompted me to look into what banks were calling “sustainable finance”. I found that billions of dollars of supposedly green finance was in fact funding companies fuelling the climate crisis, including one that was bulldozing a village to expand a coal mine.

Alternatively, you might want to hand over material to be used in a story but still keep your identity anonymous. A good journalist will carefully support their source with this, spending time discussing how to ensure that anything they publish cannot be traced back to them.

My colleagues at TBIJ, for instance, were approached by a former meat inspector – who wanted to remain anonymous – and told that poor hygiene and ineffective regulations in abattoirs had left consumers at risk of potentially fatal food poisoning. The abattoir in question was eventually prosecuted.

Equally, you might want to go fully public with your story. But you should discuss what level of anonymity you need with a journalist before any information is shared.

The Bureau newsletter

Subscribe to the Bureau newsletter, and hear when our next story breaks.

Who should you go to?

It is important to take care when choosing who you approach. Find a journalist or a publication that is already covering the area well. At TBIJ, we publish in partnership with major outlets such as the BBC and the Financial Times. We are experienced in dealing with sources that want to remain anonymous and we can act as a buffer between a source and a big outlet that might be under more time pressure to land an exclusive story. Our investigations often take months of reporting, partly because we make sure to give sources as much time as they need.

There are some basic precautions to take if you are approaching a journalist and don’t want your employer to know.

  • First, make sure all communications are from a device that you do not use for work.

  • Do not forward any messages or documents directly from a work email account – instead take photos of the screen and share them.

  • Try to use messaging apps, such as Signal, which are end-to-end encrypted so only the sender and recipient can access the messages.

Blowing the whistle may be nerve-racking but it can have a huge impact. Since my investigation into “sustainable finance”, we’ve heard that one major bank is developing new guidelines on the basis that industry standards are not good enough. In another report we revealed that the high prices charged by two huge companies had caused a shortage of medical oxygen across Africa. That led to the World Health Organization adopting a landmark resolution which could hugely reduce the number of deaths every year. None of that would have happened without brave company insiders coming forward.

Blowing the whistle to the media does not have to cost you your career. But it can be necessary in order to drive meaningful change.

This article was published with the whistleblowing advice charity Protect as part of its Environmental Whistleblowing Toolkit, which can be found in full here.

This article was amended on 13 October 2023 to remove an erroneous example of an end-to-end encrypted messaging app.