Live-blogging the IRE 2012 Conference in Boston: Resources that will help you be a better investigative journalist
Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, we only sell our mothers for really, really good stories. But more importantly, we’re actually an amazingly friendly, collaborative bunch.
I’m in Boston where more than 1,000 people are trading tips, offering advice and learning from the best journalists around at this year’s Investigative Reporters and Editors conference.
This is the place to be if you’ve ever wondered, say, how Washington Post reporters figured out the complexities of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. You get to listen to the actual reporters who worked on the story. They’re essentially saying, “Here’s how we did it, and here are some tips we learned to help you work on the same kind of story.” It’s a goldmine for anyone who cares about journalism and wants to do it better.
These conferences generate a treasure trove of tipsheets that help journalists investigate just about any topic. I’ll be updating this post over the next few days with some of the more interesting links and resources I come across at the conference. Feel free to chat me up or contact me if there’s something you want to include.
Jun 29, 2012: 2:13 pm
Missed a panel at the IRE 2012 Conference in Boston? Tipsheets for members are available at IRE’s website. Yet another reason to join IRE.
Next year’s conference is in San Antonio, and we’re already talking about upcoming panels, speakers and events. Contact me if you have any ideas.
Thanks for a great time in Boston and hope to see you next year.
Jun 22, 2012: 10:39 am
— ICIJ (@ICIJorg) June 21, 2012
Jun 21, 2012: 7:53 am
How to solve impossible problems: Daniel Russell’s awesome Google search techniques.
Jun 17, 2012: 9:09 pm
Tips on Twitter (via Katie Foody’s awesome Storify collection of tips from the IRE conference):
— Lindsey Rogers Cook (@Lindzcook) June 14, 2012
— Tom Meagher (@ultracasual) June 15, 2012
— Bill Mitchell (@bmitch) June 16, 2012
So many great Web tools coming out of Sunday #IRE12 session. Try www [dot] cometdocs [dot] com to convert PDF data to Excel. So cool.
— Lindsay VanHulle (@LindsayVanHulle) June 17, 2012
— Tyler Dukes (@mtdukes) June 16, 2012
Gem of “Tracking Private Parts of Public Officials” Gov’t firewalls that log outbound web requests. Where are your officials surfing? #IRE12
— Saul Tannenbaum (@stannenb) June 16, 2012
Jun 17, 2012: 5:08 am
Fellow #ire12 conference goers.Try the app camscaner to scan and make PDF documents with your smartphone. Best app EVER.
— jeremyjojola (@jeremyjojola) June 17, 2012
Jun 16, 2012: 9:25 pm
— will huntsberry (@willhuntsberry) June 17, 2012
Jun 16, 2012: 4:23 pm
One “downside” about IRE conferences is you wind up amassing more great ideas and tipsheets than you know what to do with. How do you keep track of everything, and not forget an insight that might be useful months from now?
You might want to create your own tip sheet, or handbook, that you can use throughout your journalism career.
My handbook is old and needs to be pruned. But you can see how it works. If I want to do a thorough job backgrounding someone, I go to the “Backgrounding” section of my handbook and start going down the list of things to check — licensing files, marriage licenses, etc.
Any time you come across a resource you think might come in handy, add it to your handbook. You might need it tomorrow — or a year from now.
Jun 16, 2012: 3:38 pm
— DougHaddix (@DougHaddix) June 16, 2012
Jun 16, 2012: 1:28 pm
Panel videos: IRE is posting videos of some panels at its latakoo page. Panels include tips for investigating businesses and a conversation about the state of the media after the News Corp. phone hacking scandal.
Jun 16, 2012: 9:16 am
Archives and historical documents can be powerful tools for journalists, even on deadline.
“It’s been my secret weapon,” said James Neff, investigations editor at the Seattle Times.
Some cool resources:
Regional collections of the maps are often available at local libraries, historical societies and universities.
Jun 16, 2012: 7:20 am
Jun 15, 2012: 4:46 pm
Resources used by Duff Wilson of Reuters for his investigation of the food industry and its lobbying against stricter health standards for children.
Jun 15, 2012: 11:44 am
Tips from Sara Ganim, reporter for the Patriot-News, who broke the Jerry Sandusky scandal:
“You wouldn’t find that in every newsroom,” Ganim said.
“Twitter is a really great way to stay in touch with your readers,” Ganim said. At Joe Paterno’s public memorial service, people on Twitter were asking her questions, guiding her to things to look for. “I found it incredibly helpful,” she said. “It’s a good gauge of what your readers want to know.”
Ganim didn’t want to rehash what the Associated Press was reporting — she argued with her boss that they needed to go back to their sources, the parents of the victims, to get their reaction. No one else could do that.
“That’s really how we were able to stay ahead,” Ganim said.
Jun 15, 2012: 11:09 am
Investigating Power: A vast video archive of interviews with investigative journalists — several of whom are speaking right now at the IRE Conference.
Jun 15, 2012: 10:18 am
Tips on Twitter:
Ira Rosen of 60 Minutes: “Dead space is your friend. You ask a question and you let it lay there and people fill up that dead space.” #IRE12
— Taylor Dobbs (@taylordobbs) June 15, 2012
Pulitzer winner James Grimaldi: “Showing the quid is easy. The quo is easy. It’s the pro that’s tough. How did connection happen?” #IRE12
— John Russell (@JohnRussell99) June 15, 2012
Don’t settle for interviews with PR people. Insist on talking to the real source. The Art of the Interview at #IRE12
— Amy Karon (@amykaron) June 15, 2012
Berens: When hunting for data on investigative pieces, remember that these stories are really about people. This is why we do it. #IRE12
— Tyler Dukes (@mtdukes) June 15, 2012
“Every investigative story begins w/a timeline. It will pay gold” in showing patterns, narrative writing. M. Berens, Seattle Times #IRE12
— John Russell (@JohnRussell99) June 15, 2012
Jun 15, 2012: 8:33 am
Local communities are spending billions of dollars in tax subsidies to lure companies in the hope of getting more jobs and economic development. But the subsidies are often based on dubious claims and consultants’ studies that reporters should be checking.
The irony is that corporate subsidies erode the tax base for public schools — one of the things that actually does bolster economic development.
A few tips offered by panelists Daniel Connolly, Jim Heaney, Greg LeRoy and David Cay Johnston:
“Develop data,” said Heaney. “This is absolutely essential. You’ve got to go to the agency and ferret out all the costs. And most projects get multiple subsidies.”
Jun 15, 2012: 6:31 am
Data on deadline: Keli Rabon and Stephen Brock put together this list of handy databases you can use for breaking-news stories. “Be ready before breaking news hits,” Brock said at the panel “CAR under pressure.” “Practice the data.”
interesting websites from the presentation:
Jun 14, 2012: 4:07 pm
Demystifying Web scraping: Ted Han and Sean Sposito’s Google Docs presentation. Nifty.
Jun 14, 2012: 3:47 pm
Tips on Twitter:
— Brian M. Rosenthal (@brianmrosenthal) June 14, 2012
Does your city participate in the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS)? A gold mine of data on crime statistics. #IRE12
— Lindsay VanHulle (@LindsayVanHulle) June 14, 2012
— Robin J Phillips (@RobinJP) June 14, 2012
— IRE and NICAR (@IRE_NICAR) June 14, 2012
Is anyone else who went to that privacy panel feeling a little paranoid now? #IRE2012
— Jordan Culver (@JordanCulver) June 14, 2012
Jun 14, 2012: 3:15 pm
Google Doc presentation of free computer-assisted reporting tools: Download a list of free resources discussed by Anthony DeBarros of USA Today and Matt Stiles of NPR.
Jun 14, 2012: 3:04 pm
Gannett Tumblr: Gannett journalists are covering the conference at “Gannett @ IRE. Great posts, pictures and videos.
Jun 14, 2012: 2:56 pm
Interactive wind map: Amazing map of wind patterns in the United States. “We hadn’t visualized wind before and hadn’t realized its power,” said Google’s Martin Wattenberg, who helped create the map by marshaling government data.
Jun 14, 2012: 12:38 pm
Panel tip: Get the records retention schedule.
From the Department of Things Reporters Should Really Be Doing A Whole Lot More Often, this tip comes from Ellen Gabler.
“I love teaching people about asking for data,” said Gabler this morning at “The ask: Requesting and negotiating for data.” To know what to ask for, you have to know what exists.
“Ask agencies for their records retention schedule,” Gabler said. This gives you a complete list of every type of document kept by the agency, which can point you to interesting records and databases.
Jun 14, 2012: 12:13 pm
Panel Tip: Create a data log.
Steve Doig and Elizabeth Lucas offered this gem at the “Taming monstrous datasets” panel.
When you analyze data, the queries can get really complicated. You might be doing some queries, crunch some numbers, and move on to the next part of the story. Then, weeks or months later when it’s time to publish and you’re bulletproofing those figures, an editor is going to ask how you came up with them. “You need to be able to answer that,” Doig said.
The solution is keeping a log of your work. It’s tedious, Lucas said, but it’s worth the trouble. When you turn in numbers for a story, attach a log documenting your process.
“An audit trail is absolutely essential,” Doig said.
Jun 14, 2012: 11:59 am
Jun 14, 2012: 10:37 am
Jun 14, 2012: 10:00 am