Posts Tagged ‘IRE’

Live-blogging the IRE 2013 Conference in San Antonio: Resources that will help you be a better journalist

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

IRE Conference 2013

Check out some of my favorite research tips, strategies and resources from this year’s Investigative Reporters and Editors conference, where about 1,100 incredibly talented journalists are meeting in San Antonio. These conferences are geared for journalists, but really anyone who’s interested in research tools will find many of these tips handy.

How to solve impossible problems: Daniel Russell’s awesome Google search techniques

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Daniel Russell stood in front of a crowd of investigative journalists in Boston last week and showed us this picture of a random skyscraper in an unknown city:

Google challenge by Daniel Russell

Russell posed a riddle:

What’s the phone number of the office where this picture was snapped?

Let that sink in. He wasn’t asking for a phone number for the skyscraper in the picture, which sounds hard enough. He wanted the phone number of the precise office where the photographer was standing when the picture was taken.

Nothing in that office was even in the photo. Yet in a few minutes, Russell, a research scientist at Google, revealed the answer by paying attention to small details and walking us through a series of smart Google searches.

Daniel Russell, research scientist for Google“Once you know these tricks, you can solve problems that look impossible,” Russell said.

There are plenty of Google search cheat sheets floating around. But it’s not often you get to hear advice directly from someone at Google who offers you his favorite search tools, methods and perspectives to help you find the impossible.

Here are some of my favorite tips shared by Russell at the 2012 Investigative Reporters and Editors conference. Some of these techniques are powerful but obscure; others are well-known but not fully understood by everyone.

Live-blogging the IRE 2012 Conference in Boston: Resources that will help you be a better investigative journalist

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

IRE 2012 Conference in BostonThe classic stereotype about journalists is that we’re all backstabbing vultures who would sell our mothers for a good story.

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.

Tipsheet: How to bulletproof a story

Friday, February 19th, 2010

I’m working on this tipsheet for a presentation tomorrow at a Watchdog Workshop in Austin organized by Investigative Reporters and Editors. My boss and I are going to talk about some methods we use to fact-check stories. Check out the tipsheet and feel free to e-mail me or leave a comment if you have more ideas about improving accuracy in news stories or blog posts.

Update: For more information about setting up your own notes template that’s mentioned in the tipshseet, here’s a past post with instructions.

How Investigative Reporters and Editors shaped my first investigative story

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

logos headline

Investigative Reporters and Editors is in the middle of a fundraising campaign. If you care about watchdog journalism, you might want to think about helping the cause.

I first heard about IRE from Ken Dilanian, who was an investigative reporter for the San Antonio Express-News in the mid-1990s. I was a skinny dude with a flat top attending Incarnate Word College and writing for the student newspaper, the Logos. Ken suggested I read a book published by IRE called, “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook.”

I bought the handbook during Christmas break and devoured it. The book preached the value of tracking down key records to verify what people tell you, and to learn information that officials don’t want you to know. There’s a wide, wide world of public information out there, if you just know where to look. The book showed you how.

I read the handbook just in time. In the Spring semester at Incarnate Word, I friend told me about problems at the school’s science hall. She said the school was doing a terrible job storing dangerous chemicals — even the San Antonio bomb squad had been called to dispose of potentially explosive substances.

If I hadn’t read IRE’s handbook, I probably would have called the dean, been told nothing was wrong, and walked away clueless about what was really going on.

But thanks to IRE, I thought about which government agencies might have information that could confirm the tip. I tracked down public records, such as police reports, and talked to key officials, such as fire marshals, and confirmed the story. By the time I talked to the dean, I already knew what was going on. It was liberating.

Here’s part of my story in the Logos, published on April 4, 1996:

Sloppy storage practices have plagued the science department for as long as employees remember — and the problem could be deadly.

Last semester Incarnate Word called in chemical disposal specialists from Emtech Environmental Service after old acid was found that could have exploded had it been disturbed.

Bernard Zarazua, laboratory director at the time, was cleaning a lab that hadn’t been used in over six months when he discovered crystallized picric acid in a 25-gram container.

Stable in liquid form, picric acid solidifies over time, turning combustible and sensitive to vibration.

“We had [Emtech] come out and dispose of it,” Zarazua says. “They did it at six in the morning so no one would be alarmed.”

IRE is a nonprofit group that has taught countless students, bloggers and reporters better ways to practice the craft of watchdog journalism. That’s worth a few bucks.