Cap'n Transit on the journalist's temptation to write "David vs Goliath" stories:
Behind an apparent David and Goliath story of Outraged Residents confronting the Heartless Bureaucrats may be a much uglier story. The Outraged Residents may actually be a few wealthy or upper-middle-class people protecting their privilege and convenience at the expense of the convenience – or often the safety and well-being – of much larger numbers of less fortunate people, and the Heartless Bureaucrats may actually be engaged in an emotionally draining struggle to protect these less fortunate people.
I expanded on this difficult issue here. Cap'n Transit frames this specifically as a class issue, but it doesn't have to be. In many cases the Heartless Bureaucrats are just balancing the needs of a number of conflicting parties, who would all rather yell about "the government" than do the hard work of talking and listening to each other.
I’ve dealt with this issue when I was a reporter.
One of the big problems journalists have to deal with when using public and private institutions as a source is that the person they talk to is a public relations gatekeeper and not the person directly involved in a story.
Big institutions, at least in the U.S., only allow a few authorized people to talk. Usually, its the public affairs department or a department head.
The “heartless bureaucrat,” the one actually working on the task, is usually never allowed to talk. If they are, they require clearances and “grooming” (preparing them with expected questions and what is allowed or prohibited from being said).
The message the public receives is the one coming from public affairs, not directly from where the action is. The message is more sophisticated and polished, and is crafted with protecting the institution as a whole.
Thanks, Jarrett! Sorry I didn’t give you credit for your very helpful discussion of the issue last month. I’ve edited the post to add a link.