How I Got That Story: Brad Greenberg

Brad Greenberg of the Jewish Journal gave us some insight on his recent Save A Heart finance story. It all started with an anonymous letter.

FBLA: What’s the drill with anon. tips and letters? Bloggers can pretty much just post the tip and say: we got an unsigned tip. Do you have different standards?

BG: Well, I’m also a blogger, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable posting an anonymous letter like the one I received about the Save A Heart Foundation. I’m always wary of people who want to share damaging information without letting me know who they are. I appreciate it, but I need to know how they got the information they’re passing on to me and why I should trust them.

The Save A Heart letter, for example, was a great tip. But it was only a tip. The accuracy was limited. Misspelled names, a bad phone number and some details that didn’t check out. But the letter included some information that was easy to check: Had a potential crime been reported to police, who handled the Save A Heart books, was Cedars involved?

FBLA: How do you proceed when you got the story?

BG: A colleague dropped the letter on my desk on a Friday afternoon when I was trolling the Web for God Blog fodder. I opened the envelope, scanned the two-page letter and knew I needed to jump. The accused was an organization that raises almost half a million a year to bring cardiologists from Israel to train at Cedars-Sinai. Clearly a Jewish story. And I knew that I wasn’t the only person who had received this letter, which ended by saying that “while you are pointing all your focus and attention at King Drew Hospital” — I haven’t ever written about the South LA hospital — ” … we are relying on you to keep and put this in the public eye. The PRESS is very important.”

I knew I wouldn’t have time to get this in the following week’s paper, so I took a long approach. Before calling Save A Heart and Cedars and the police, I researched the foundation, cross-referencing board members and major donors with sources who might be able to help. Then I started working the phones.

FBLA: Has this happened to you before?

BG: Sure. But most often, the claims in anonymous letters are no more valuable than the personal attacks I receive when I write stories about Islamophobia ( par for the course). This tip panned out. Thanks, anonymous.

FBLA: Any speculation about why people send anon. letters to a newspaper?

BG:Often they are people in the know. The question is: How much?

If the anonymous letter is worthwhile, then the author probably knows a lot but is afraid they’ll lose their job if they speak with a reporter, even off the record. But if an unsigned letter contains no verifiable facts or simply complains about an idiot boss (not that rare a thing) I tend to think I’m dealing with someone who likes to kvetch but has little to offer. Don’t get me wrong: Disgruntled employees make for great sources — but only if they have access to and knowledge of something readers will care about.

FBLA: Are you pursuing this story?

BG: Absolutely. Reporting the first part of this story was an exercise in frustration. I left a lot of friendly phone messages, and had few returned. But, thanks to the anonymous tipster, the community learned a something about problems at a respected nonprofit affiliated with an even more respected hospital. Hopefully that will generate some calls from people who can shed more light on what’s actually going on at Save A Heart.