TSN, whistleblowers talk journalism at Knight Media Forum in Miami

On Thursday, Feb. 22, TSN-supported whistleblowers Anika Collier Navaroli, Mark MacGann as well as whistleblower Wendell Potter presented at the Knight Media Forum in Miami, Florida. They discussed the important role whistleblowers play in promoting an informed and accountable society and the need for greater support given the vital role they play in our democracies.

Knight Foundation Vice President of Journalism Jim Brady introduced the panel, which was moderated by TSN Board Member and Missouri School of Journalism Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies Kathy Kiely.

Navaroli, who has degrees in journalism and law, said she was “probably the best-positioned whistleblower to ever speak to journalists.” But, she warned, that it didn’t make the process easy.

Navaroli was the most senior expert on Twitter’s US safety policy team at the time of the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. She gave information to Congress about Twitter’s role and testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability in February 2023. She warned January 6th will happen again unless Congress starts regulating social media platforms.

Speaking about her whistleblowing experience, Navaroli said: “There were so many conversations and so many times, even with all of the experience, all of the knowledge that I had, that things went left. It’s such a difficult process to be able to navigate.”

As an example, Navaroli noted the security risk that came, for example, from allowing journalists to interview her at her home. Kiely said that Navaroli’s experience shows how the journalism landscape has changed because of technology.

“A lot of the concerns you’re talking about, I think about now a lot when I’m working with young journalists,” Kiely said. “But I didn’t have to think about it when I was their age because doxxing didn’t exist.”

Kiely asked Potter, who became a whistleblower more than a decade earlier, whether he thinks he would have had a different experience if he blew the whistle now because of doxxing and social media. Potter said yes.

“For one thing, the companies I work for are far bigger, they have far much more money than they had before — immensely powerful in Washington and state capitals and the courts,” Potter said. He added that because of social media, he “would have been probably decimated in certain ways that I wasn’t at that time.”

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 in 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.

MacGann pointed out that he, Navaroli and Potter were all familiar with the journalism world before blowing the whistle, whereas “most whistleblowers would be massively intimidated.” While he worked with incredible reporters for the Uber Files, he said, many newsrooms do not consider the well-being of their whistleblower sources who risk everything to come forward, he said.

“The Signals Network has been my staff … in the biblical sense, my rock, my stalwart, over the past year and a half on a daily basis,” MacGann said. “The support for whistleblowers out there is absolutely abysmal. Organizations like The Signals Network are extraordinarily rare.”

About TSN

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 sarah@thesignalsnetwork.org.