Investigating the armored-car industry

by January 24, 2013

I’m always interested in how reporters gather information when covering uncommon industries with few paper trails and regulations. When I read Texas Observer reporter Patrick Michels’ story about the armored car industry, I had to contact him.

He uses the tragic story of an armored car employee to shed light on the industry’s “action-movie” image of robberies being the primary safety issue. The most common issue is flying coins that can crush workers trapped in the cargo area, he writes.

Patrick says the industry has regulations about how to handle money, but not about worker safety. As he notes in his story, that’s because the business straddles private security and long-haul trucking, leaving it in a middle ground without strict regulations.

“I knew I had a compelling story with the Wauson’s ordeal and I wanted to be sure the industry side held up,” Patrick says. “There were a lot of wrecks that fit the same pattern.”

Patrick Michels

With no large database of information, Patrick’s reporting benefited from “Six Degrees of Separation.” Even the story idea generation fits: victim’s family (tells) renter (who knows) former Observer writer (who contacts) current Observer writer (who shares story with) Patrick.

The victim’s family connected Patrick with Steve Rachael, who Patrick writes is the “unofficial industry watchdog.” He says Rachael tracks accidents with Google alerts and has collected decades of information. “He became my way into some of the problems in the industry,” Patrick says.