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Handling anonymous tipsters

When Tisha Thompson of WTTG in Washington, D.C., gets a call from a tipster who’s afraid to leave a name or phone number, she has a surefire way of staying in touch.

Tisha Thompson of WTTG-Washington, D.C.

Tisha Thompson of WTTG-Washington, D.C.

Thompson suggests that the source set up an e-mail account with an alias on AOL, Google or another national provider. To help protect potential whistleblowers, she reminds them not to communicate with her from a work computer or telephone.  Once the source e-mails her from the new account, she has a way of communicating, rather than waiting for the phone to ring. Thompson’s advice came during a recent Better Watchdog Workshop in New Haven, Conn., that drew 60 journalists, professors and students. Other speakers included Neil Reisner, a Florida International University professor who shared tactics for making better use of the Web; Maurice Tamman, a news editor at The Wall Street Journal who explained how to use spreadsheets and databases in investigative stories; and Tracie Brown, an attorney for the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission who gave advice on getting public records more quickly. “I was shocked at how quickly the day went by,” said Jamie DeLoma, a news editor at in New York. “It was really packed full of a very diverse and eclectic group of topics, ideas and insights.” The workshop provided inspiration for Adam Wittenberg, city editor of The Record-Journal in Meriden, Conn. “It always just gives me hope that these kinds of stories are possible. It gets me out of the daily grind and out of the nitty-gritty and a chance to step back and say, ‘Yeah, I can implement some of that with my staff.’” Luther Turmelle, north bureau chief for the New Haven Register, said the workshop recharged his batteries. “It also reminds veteran journalists – and I’ve been a reporter for 20 years – you can find out some new things you don’t necessarily know, and you’re reminded of some things that you may have forgotten. It’s really valuable, and given the price and the fact that it’s all done in one day, you can’t beat it.” -- Doug Haddix, IRE training director

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