On Saturday, June 24, The Signals Network held its first panel at the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference in Orlando, Florida.
Twitter whistleblower Anika Collier Navaroli, Uber Files whistleblower Mark MacGann and health insurance industry whistleblower Wendell Potter spoke about their whistleblowing journeys and offered tips to journalists on how to best work with whistleblower sources.
TSN Board of Directors member Kathy Kiely moderated the Knight Foundation-sponsored panel, which was titled “How to Help Whistleblowers Help You.”
Navaroli gave information to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. MacGann provided more than 124,000 internal Uber documents to The Guardian last year detailing Uber’s lobbying tactics and its relationship with drivers from 2014-2107. Both receive support from TSN.
Potter is a former insurance industry executive who testified to Congress about the insurance industry’s role in rising health care costs, as well as its role on the increasing population of under-insured and uninsured U.S. citizens. His testimony incited major policy reforms included in the Affordable Care Act. In 2008, he left his job as head of communications at Cigna to advocate for health care reform.
All three speakers shared their stories about what led them to blow the whistle, and the dramatic hardships that came with it. MacGann and Potter described their lives as split between “before” and “after” because the change after blowing the whistle was that dramatic.
The speakers reflected on the challenges and benefits of working with journalists when blowing the whistle.
“I found myself in a lot of challenging situations in which I was speaking with folks who found my story to be fascinating, but weren’t necessarily understanding the danger or the risk I was willing to put myself in,” Navaroli said.
MacGann said he was enormously grateful and impressed after working with The Guardian and the International Consortium of Invesigative Journalists, who first broke the story of the Uber Files revelations. He remembers telling the journalists that he did not need to be “famous” as a whistleblower, but that if going public would add more credibility to the story, he was willing to go public.
Despite working with good journalists, MacGann’s experience was still isolating and life-altering, he said. Two hours before being revealed as the source behind Uber Files in July 2022, he said, he had a Zoom call with The Signals Network in search of legal representation.
“There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by where we have not been on the phone because this thing has such a large tail,” he said. “I never would have imagined that Uber Files is still almost 100% of my life.”
He added: “If investigative newsrooms can make sure that they partner with the likes of The Signals Network … I would encourage that.”
During the panel, Potter said he was advised when he made the decision to be a whistleblower that “you have to leap and a net will appear.” He realized afterward that whistleblowing is not really that simple, he said.
His advice to Navaroli, MacGann and any other new whistleblowers out there: “Hang in there. It is a long road, but things smooth out. You will not forever see yourself in your own head as whistleblower.”
The Signals Network (TSN) is a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to supporting whistleblowers who risk their livelihoods to share public interest information with the press. Founded in 2017 by journalists, whistleblowers and lawyers, TSN operates internationally to hold powerful interests accountable. TSN provides customized support to a selected group of whistleblowers who have contributed to published reports of significant wrongdoing. This support may include legal, psychological, physical safety, temporary safe-housing, online safety, career support and communication support.
For journalist inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.