Journalists constantly struggle to go beyond the official spin and report on a deeper level about government actions.
It's a daily fight, one in which we need to be ever diligent against getting snowed by officials and falling into the role of stenographers rather than independent reporters. All of us, me included, can find ourselves regretful when we learn that the bureaucratic rhetoric we reported turns out to be far from reality.
That's why the best reporting tracks government action by document rather than lip service. It's why obtaining government communications is a vital and why I have dedicated my 2012 columns to the obtaining public officials' e-mails and texts.
Today, rather than write this column, I am going to let the bureaucrats write it. What follows are city of Oakland e-mails obtained under the Public Records Act in which top officials discuss Occupy Oakland and the tent city that sprang up last year outside City Hall. City officials' attempts to oust the protesters and the violent response that followed helped turn Oakland into an epicenter of the national Occupy movement. The emails' writers include public relations people, lawyers, and top police officials, including a deputy police chief, Jeffrey Israel, who has since been demoted to captain.
These were the people assigned to decide how to deal with protesters and shape the city's image under an increasingly glaring spotlight. With the help of database producer Daniel J. Willis and as part of our commitment to digital journalism, I begin today a three-part series comprised of emails written by and to Oakland bureaucrats as more and more people poured into Frank H. Ogawa Plaza.