Investigative Reporting Source Guide

The 21st annual Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) conference, held mid-June in Providence, R.I., offered, in addition to the usual fare, a full day of skill workshops on computer-assisted reporting, an increasingly essential aspect of the journalist’s trade. While computer resources won't make a bad reporter into a good one, they will make a competent reporter into a FAST competent reporter, if nothing else. Some have been inhibited by technophobia, fear of math or complex software, as Brant Houston notes in Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide (St.Martin's Press,1996), but as costs come down and user-friendliness goes up, the computer is showing its utility in several ways. The three fundamental tools in computer-assisted journalism are spreadsheet software, database managers, and on-line resources. Spreadsheets come in handy whenever quantitative comparisons or finances are central to the story. Database managers enable you to make connections within or between large hard-to-manage batches of linking them through ID numbers or key words For example, compare a death certificate list with a voter registration list to find those interesting characters who rise from the grave to cast ballots in some jurisdictions. On-line resources include discussion groups, bulletin boards, database libraries , and much more. The following are some of the more useful lists of source suggestions, online and off, that were presented at the IRE conference and may be of value to would-be investigators:SOURCES FOR INVESTIGATIONS OF SWEATSHOPS, (especially in meat processing -- Adapt for clothing trade, etc.) & RELATED PROBLEMS OF MIGRANT/ IMMIGRANT WORKERS from compilation by Joe Rigert, Minneapolis Star-Tribune Fax (612) 673-4359 E-mail: Rigert@Startribune.comINDUSTRY BACKGROUNDTwo academic experts on migrant/immigrant workers: Mark Grey, Univ. of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA (319) 273-2783; Donald Stull, Univ. of Kansas, Lawrence,KS, (913) 864-3701Industry perspective: American Meat Institute, (703) 841-2400Trade Publications, e.g., Meat and Poultry Magazine, Mill Valley, CA; (Steve Bjerklie) (415) 388-7575Labor viewpoint: United Food & Commercial Workers (Washington) (202) 223-3111.Like many unions, the UFCW follows safety issues and industry trends through its research dept.Government Agencies:--U.S. Dept. of Labor for national wage data; U.S. Depts. of Labor & Agriculture for regulations governing food factories.--State workers comp agency for injury rate data on specific companies, perhaps also facts on individual cases settled.--State employment or training depts. for industry wage & employment trends --Economic Development agencies (state/local) for loans etc. to companiesWORKING CONDITIONSState Attorney General for legal actions over workers comp, state OSHA, other health/safety issuesCivil/criminal Cout indexes, and legal aid servicesFire station logs, for medical emergency runs to plants/factoriesConcentrated Employment Program (CEP), for federal subsidies to companiesState OSHA, or reional office of federal OSHA. For help analyzing computerized OSHA accident or enforcement data, contact Robert Scherer, Wright State Univ., Dayton, Ohio (513) 873-3718HOUSING & SOCIAL CONDITIONSState human services/welfare depts may have special placement/service programs; may have done studiesHousing organizations/ homeless assistance groups/food programsLocal housing depts. for inspection reports on unsafe/substandard buildings Fire marshal’s office for fire fatalities/injuries involving workersCommunity action (anti-poverty ) agenciesChurch groups or ethnic (black/Latino/Asian) advocacy orgs.English-as-second-language teachers often do a lot of home visits and can provide anecdotal reports.GOVT REGULATION & ENFORCEMENTOSHA (state & federal); Review company files for inspections, citations, enforcement actionsState workers comp files for how workers compensated for on-job injuriesSocial service agencies for info on how migrants treated in education, housing, welfare, medical programs, etc.Employment development agencies; check whether employment and wage requirements for public loans and grants have been met U.S. Dept. of Labor, Wages and Hours Division; for compliance requests -- FOIA request may be needed INS sorces may sometimes be helpful in cases of corporate offenders persistently hiring illegal immigrants.INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS REPORTING -- 25 PLACES TO GO DIGGING1. DataCenter(510) 835-4692 datacenter@igc.apc.orgValuable Oakland, Calif., research center, clipping service and library. Keeps over 30,000 files on issues ranging from corporate responsibility to military contracting.2. Council on Economic Priorities (800) 729-4237; (212) 420-1133 Megan MurphyWatches corporate conduct, particularly employment practices, environmental impact and multinational operations. Follows military contracting as well. New York-based organization has files on 750 U.S.-headquartered companies.3. SEC Records Wide Web access to filings by public companies with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Annual 10K reports are particularly helpful, since they tell where a company does business and give you five years’ worth of financial history.4. ProfNete-mail: profnet@vyne.comOn-line window to possible experts in your subject. Send a message to this academic network asking for help.5. News OrganizationsFrom Vietnam Today to Bloomberg News Service, numerous news outlets can be checked for background. Many are available on-line. AOL, for instance, links you to many international news publications.6. Inside U.S. Trade(703) 416-8539e-mail: iwp@iwpnews.comWeekly newsletter produced by Inside Washington Publishers that covers international trade. Not available through an on-line service but is found in libraries.7. International Reporting Beat List is a Web link from the Beat Page, a reporters’ resource developed by Shawn McIntosh of the Dallas Morning News. It offers international trade statistics, a who’s who, country resources and more.8. Hoover’s Guides.(512) 454-7778Corporate directories, available on-line (AOL) and through libraries. There is a special guide to private companies, and a series of books on business activities in specified countries. If you’re looking at a particular company, Hoover’s is a quick way to find competitors - and sources.9. Multinational MonitorWashington, D.C.(202) 387-8030 publication that tracks corporate conduct, especially in the Third World. AOL offers access to back issues. 10. American Council for the Advancement of Human RightsWashington, D.C.(202) 364-8710Advocacy, monitoring organization. Promotes international agreements that bolster human rights.11. Export-Import BankWashington, D.C.(202) 565-3200http://www.exim.govFinances the sale of U.S. goods and services around the world. Good route to finding out where American corporations are doing business and with whom.12. International Research Centers DirectoryDetroit, Mich.(313) 961-2242Catalogues over 6,600 foreign research organizations in about 145 countries. Gives addresses and descriptions of the groups. Available on-line through Dialog.13. Country ForecastNew York, N.Y.(212) 460-0600Publication, available through Nexis, that examines political, economic and business conditions in about 50 countries.14. EmbassiesOfficials in U.S. and foreign embassies can be called upon for analysis, background and contacts.15. International Business MonthlyHouston, Texas(713) 641-0201Publication of 130,000 circulation that watches business developments around the world.16. Antitrust & Trade Regulation ReportWashington. D.C.(202) 452-4200Editor: Sheldon RichmanWeekly publication that follows legislative, regulatory and court developments on trade. Available on Nexis.17. World Governments link to government gophers worldwide. You’ll find international security resources and various indexes.18. F&S Business Periodicals IndexBronx, N.Y.(800) 346-6770Guide to publications around the world. Available in libraries.19. House Foreign Affairs Committee(202) 225-5021Minority staff: (202) 225-6735There are subcommittees covering various regions, as well as one on international operations and human rights. 20. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee(202) 224-4651The subcommittee setup is similar to the House’s.21. State Department(202) 647-2492Press office, for information and referrals.22. Carnegie Endowment for International PeaceWashington, D.C.(202) 797-6400Familiar with human rights issues.23. International Human Rights Law GroupWashington, D.C.(202) 639-8016contact:A legal group that promotes human rights.24. U.S. International Trade Commission(202) 205-1819 Congress, White House and federal agencies on trade issues and tracks the impact of imports on U.S. industries.25. General Accounting Office Affairs: (202) 512-7726Document room: (202)-512-6000Congress’ investigative arm, which has overseas offices, looks into many foreign issues involving use of public funds. You can order reports by e-mail.INVESTIGATING NON-PROFITSAs experienced reporters know, the term "non-profit" sometimes just means that the profits don't go to shareholders. Here's how to check out this frequently fertile field for finagling, based on info provided largely by David Armstrong of the Boston Globe.Legitimate large charitable groups will probably be listed with the National Charities Information Bureau (e-mail to or on the Web at ).State Attorney Generals or Secretaries of State will also inform you about whether the group has filed reports and remains in good standing. One reason to appreciate the IRS is as a research resource on non-profits -- call (202) 622-8001 to find out. IRS form 990, which non-profits are required to file annually, offers a wealth of data, including (Part I) net assets, current balances, sources of revenue; Part II details expenditures, Part V lists owners, directors and their salaries. Schedule A gives top employees' remuneration, board members and their addresses -- past years' filings could ID former directors who might speak more freely than current ones (termination and pension payments may suggest good sources as well). Part 3 II (d) of this schedule lists related party transactions, where signs of self-dealing with directors or executives may surface, if present. Audits (required in many states) should be attached. ACCESSING MILITARY RECORDS --Beyond name, rank and serial numberPrivate Investigator Don Rea pointed conference-goers to the repository for all military data, the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. (Rea’s MIE publishing prints guidebooks on finding both military personnel and civilians -- call (800) 937-2133 to order.) Send written inquiries to the NPRC at 9700 Page Bl., St. Louis, MO 63132 or call (314) 263-3901. Available data includes rank and date attained, past and present assignments, military and civilian education,awards and decorations, promotions, duty status, court martial records, photo, marital status and dependents, place of death and of burial. Unfortunately 1912-1960 Army records were destroyed in a fire. For anyone who is, or ever served in the reserves, Rea said the reserve locators, (314) 538-3828 or 538-5573, are very cooperative.REAL ESTATE RECORDS -- SOME OFTEN OVERLOOKED SOURCES IN PROPERTY INVESTIGATIONS (Thanks to Alan Pusey, Dallas Morning News)State Banking Board/Commission Regulates state-chartered institutions -- for ownership and charter info.State Securities Board/Commission -- for data on companies too small to warrant oversight by federal SEC.State Insurance Board/Commission -- most states require broad disclosure of investments and assets, usually in the company’s annual report. National companies doing business in the state must report, as well as local ones.State Corporation Commission/Secretary of StateFor basic ownership and charter facts on corporations and limited partnerships. Records of trademarks and trade names too.HUD Regional OfficesEspecially good for uncovering slum ownership data. Banks, S&L’s, real estste mortgage operations must make disclosures when applying for HUD coinsurance or rehab programs.UCC FilingsMortgaged personal property (boats, cars, computers, etc.) are filed by lenders to protect their loans under the Uniform Commercial Code. Filed in the county where property held or in the state capital, these sometimes divulge rich detail.County Clerk/RecorderUsual repository for deeds, DBA’s (Fictitious Business Names), property, tax, or mechanic’s liens, partnership filings, etc.District/State Court ClerkFor civil and criminal lawsuits, injunctions, divorces, wills, etc.Post OfficeIf you can show a PO Box is being used in some public manner, post office must divulge name and address of user.Public ContractsIf the business is providing goods or services to a government entity, their contract (or bid for one) must include background info on the company. Don’t overlook minor agencies -- Utility or Road Improvement Districts. Ask for performance and financial audits.ON-LINE NEWSLETTERS ABOUT THE MEDIA WORLD(From compilation by Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse Univ.)1. CABLEREG-Lsubscribe through: listserv@netcom.comCable Regulation Digest, weekly summary of regulatory happenings from Multichannel News.2. EDUPAGEsubscribe through: listproc@educom.unc.eduA thrice-weekly digest of newspaper articles on media issues and information technology from Educom, a university consortium.3. NEWS MEDIA UPDATEsubscribe through: rcfp@rcfp.orgDigest of the bi-weekly newsletter on communications law, by Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, covering latest state and federal cases and other media law issues.4. THE PRODUCERsubscribe through: producer-request@ouvaxa.cats.ohiou.eduMonthly newsletter of trends, tips, series overviews, etc. from producer Alice Main at WKRC-TV in Cincinnati.5. SHOPTALKsubscribe through: listserv@listserv.syr.eduDaily newsletter deemed essential by many in TV news; includes jobs open, job changes, reprints of articles on media and more.6. TELCOM-POSTsubscribe through: listserv@cpsr.orgNewsletter focussed on Capitol Hill telecommunication actions, pulling relevant articles and posts from mags, papers and other Net sources.

#story_page_ below_article

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.