Sometimes, your research may lead you to ‘whistle blowers’, or discontented employees with dirt to share on their organisation. Many companies, organisations and government departments in the developed world have unofficial electronic meeting rooms where critical opinions and information can be shared in anonymity and without prejudice. But do not use information from these sites directly in your story. You need to verify that the whistleblower is genuine and can support their claims; try to confirm his or her evidence by meeting the source in person.
The most useful contacts are those within an organisation who can save you the moral dilemmas and risks of ‘going underground’ yourself. Gatekeepers are often literally that: secretaries, receptionists and door security officers who can let you into a place or tell you who else goes in and out. Do not make the mistake of paying attention only to high-ranking officials; try to establish good professional relationships with everyone. Gatekeepers may also control access to information, not just physical entry. Remember that many such employees, especially those that work in banks or government organisations, will have signed confidentiality clauses as part of their employment contracts, and are legally bound not to disclose information. Do not seek their help for frivolous reasons, and always keep your relationships with them discreet, so that their identities are protected to the best of your ability.
One very useful question in any investigation is, “Who has this information?” Often, information has multiple gatekeepers. Think laterally: If the Ministry of Health refuses to give you a document, perhaps another governing body has access to the same document, for example the World Health Organisation, a health NGO, a university researcher working in this field, or a sympathetic member of the parliamentary health sub-committee. Surveyors are inside contacts that may not have any sensitive knowledge, but can tell you who is important and point you to them.
Door-openers are the people with influence. If they like you, or believe your work is worthwhile, they can persuade others to talk to you. Door-openers may be respected elder statesmen or far less senior, but trusted, individuals in an organisation or social group. Sometimes, a traditional leader is the door-opener for his or her community. These are the people who others listen to when they say: “This journalist is trustworthy – you can talk to him or her”. Identify these individuals through your background research and cultivate relationships with them whenever possible.