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August 16, 2012 - Meg Alexander
I recently received photocopies of a Star Tribune article from two different sources, neither of which gave their contact information for me to follow up with them.

"Mayo settles false-billing suit" details Mayo Clinic's agreement to pay out $1.26 million, after the federal government accused the Rochester clinic of knowingly submitting false claims for nonexistent pathology tests. When the allegation was first made in 2007, Mayo voluntarily repaid $263,000 for what the organization described as a "billing error issue" that had gone on since 1999. According to whistleblower Dr. David Ketroser, the clinic was billing the government for two sets of pathology tests used to detect cancer, but only one test was being performed.

Based on a note included with one of the photocopies of the Strib article, someone local might have been impacted by this, but I may never know, because no name or contact information was included. I'd love to follow up on this, but I need a local source.

Anonymity is completely understandable. Who wants to stick their neck out? I'm a pretty personal person myself, but there are several ways to share information with your newspaper:

— Be an anonymous source, keeping your name out of the paper and any other identifying factors you wish to avoid having published. How does this work? You'll be interviewed and potentially quoted in the article, but you'll be referred to simply as a source who did not wish to be named. As an anonymous source, you are unknown to all but the reporter and editor. Your name will not be shared even within the news department.

— Provide background information. Speaking off the record to a reporter can be helpful for putting together an article, though it is better to do more than just mail something anonymously, since the reporter cannot ask you any questions if the information you submitted is unclear.

— Go on the record and help publicize important issues. It is our jobs to be watchdogs, but we need credible, authentic sources to do this. The press only has so much power if people won’t stand up and speak out.

If you have any hesitation about taking part in an interview, talk with the reporter in advance about the information you are comfortable sharing. We are ethically bound to respect when you say something is off the record. And in this business, those ethics are as significant as any law, since loss of credibility means loss of power of the press.


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