From the point of view of a journalist the discussion begins with “information that becomes known to you and you could release to the public.” Would you reveal it?
First of all, I would be anxious about even having such a secret (there are always repercussions). If said secret is an important part of the story not just a salacious entry I feel it should be revealed. Of course, there will be people (stakeholders) who do not agree.
As indicated in my first post “Watergate” comes to mind most immediately when it come to the media, journalists and the revelation of secrets. What began as a story about a burglary ended with the toppling of a president. The “secrets” involved former FBI agents, White House staff and President Nixon all involved in illicit, illegal activities, lies and cover-ups. Government officials acting as an organized crime unit. There is no doubt that this “secret” should have been revealed.
Saving Democracy/Ousting a President?!
In deciding whether to reveal a secret I would use some of the following criteria. The first thing I would start out with is the source. If the source of the information was creditable and facts could be verified I would reveal it. If the secret involved dangerous or illegal activity or components upon which people base decisions/votes/investments, I would reveal it. As in the case of Watergate if it threatened the structure and stability of the country I would certainly reveal it.
As for the fallout, before I would tell anyone anything I would also have to investigate the backing and the protection I would have. What type of history does the paper have when it has to make such a crucial decision? It must be kept in mind that this seemingly selfless act of bravery exposes a lot about all of the folks involved in the reveal. All must be risk takers and not everyone is up to the task. Even though I would probably find a way to reveal it one-way or the other (we now live in an anonymous digital age) my physical safety comes first!
Alas, more often than not those people who do reveal the secrets of the rich and/or powerful frequently lose their jobs, family, reputations and end up in the poor house or on skid row surviving on drink and drugs. In the worse case scenario they end up dead!
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were extremely lucky, not all reveals end in such glory. Fame, fortune, Pulitzer Prizes, book deals, a movie where A-list actors Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford portray you. They will forever be the standard bearers employing a level of honesty and objective reporting that all journalists should aspire.
That having been said as a journalist I will not be the decision maker as to what is actually printed, the editors would be. Certainly I would attempt to defend my position as to why this information is important for the citizens to know but ultimately it would be out of my hands. Basically, it would boil done to the ethics, the objectivity and the courage of the newspaper. I would hope that could/would stand up to the challenge.
As a media professional you will always be privy to secrets, “off the record” conversations and such. Your responsibility is to the public at large. Ultimately you must always serve the greater good.