Investigative Business Journalism Webinar

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Alec Klein presents "Investigative Business Journalism," a Webinar hosted by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. For more information, visit http://bit.ly/ddYS2z.

Alec Klein presents "Investigative Business Journalism," a Webinar hosted by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. For more information, visit http://bit.ly/ddYS2z.

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  • 1.
    • Presented by
    • Alec Klein, professor
    • Medill School of Journalism
    • Northwestern University
  • 2.
    • How to identify an investigative business story idea, especially for beat reporters who have little time to pursue in-depth stories while pumping out lots of stories
    • How to refine the investigative business story idea
    • How to pitch the investigative business
    • story idea
  • 3.
    • To begin with, you need PHOAM
    • P :assion
    • H :ook
    • O :riginality
    • A :ccess
    • M :arket
    Image by flickr user marttj
  • 4.
    • They usually come from beats
    • That’s because they’re organic. They arise naturally in the course of reporting
    • To wit: Secret bonuses at City Hall
    • The anonymous tipster on AOL
    Image by flickr user MonkeyMike
  • 5.
    • This is not the same thing as a preconceived notion
    • Rather: Consider a set of questions that need answering
    • To wit: When cigarettes are under attack, why are cigars being glamorized? (Yachting magazine)
  • 6.
    • Let’s say you think you’ve hit on a
    • great idea
    • How do you check it out to
    • make sure it’s uncharted territory?
    • Lexis-Nexis
    • Factiva
    • Amazon
    • Google
    • The overriding question: Has it been done before?
  • 7. But who has time to pursue investigative business stories, especially when you’re on a busy beat and your editor is breathing down your neck to file early and often? Poll : Are you a beat reporter: Y or N? Poll : Are you swamped feeding the beast? Y or N?
  • 8.
    • Get out of the office: kill or be killed
    • Cub reporter: worked on vacations—only time the editors couldn’t assign stories
    • Worked on weekends
    • Worked afterhours, after the proverbial smoked cleared from the daily deadlines
    • Bottom-line: find time
    • Poll : Have you worked:
    • A) afterhours
    • B) on weekends
    • C) on vacations
    • D) All of the above
  • 9.
    • Darwinian approach: only the fittest will get on Page One
    • In the old days: Only three stories on Page One
    • Lot of reporters, few A1 slots
    • Mistake: Walk into your editor’s office with an ill-conceived idea
  • 10.
    • Such as: I’d like to do an investigation of poverty
    • Many a times: Bludgeoned in editor’s office
    • Finally figured out: Need to do some research before entering the torture chamber
    • But how much research?
  • 11.
    • About 20 percent
    • That’s enough to tell you if you’ve got a story or whether you’re going to spin your wheels
    • The 20 percent:
      • What’s the story?
      • A new trend?
      • A twist on an old idea?
      • How will you report it and how long will it take?
  • 12.
    • Mistake: Never show editors your raw notes
    • Made that mistake on AOL
    • Editor: Don’t get it, nothing here. Go back to work
  • 13.
    • Then Enron happened
    • Editors: What was Alec working on?
    • This time: I wrote a memo
    • Set free for a year
  • 14.
    • Having a year to do an investigative business story sounds better than it is
    • You better come up with a great piece
    • Can you withstand making no progress for several weeks at a time?
      • Maybe inbred
    • Poll : Can you work alone for long periods, isolated? Y or N?
  • 15.
    • Back to the memo
    • It clarifies the issues. It makes editors see. They can print it. They can ruminate over it. They can forward it by e-mail to their bosses. Then they can approve it
  • 16.
    • Let’s say your editors still say no
    • Then what?
    • Set your own agenda
  • 17.
    • The old model: the three-part series that took a year to report and runs in December in time for the Pulitzer entries
    • The new model: write episodically
    • WSJ did this: Word was sent out at the beginning of the year—let’s write about death
    • The episodic approach, it’s the way of the world: The economy, the industry. Investigative reporting is expensive
  • 18.
    • Build on your beat coverage
    • Think this way: once a month, craft a great piece of investigative reporting on the same subject
    • Over a year, you’ll end up with 12 pieces that amount to a worthy in-depth investigation into a single topic
  • 19.
    • The Las Vegas Sun, most notably including the reporting of Alexandra Berzon, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for public service, for a series of stories about the high death rate of construction workers on the Las Vegas strip. See www.pulitzer.org
    • Steve Fainaru of The Washington Post, 2008,
    • for international reporting, for his episodic
    • stories about private security contractors
    • Kevin Helliker and Thomas M. Burton of The
    • Wall Street Journal, 2004 for their episodic
    • stories about aneurysms
  • 20.
    • Please feel free to contact me at [email_address]
    • And please feel free to e-mail to me questions that you would like to ask our panel of investigative business journalists for Friday’s online chat
  • 21.
    • Presented by
    • Alec Klein, professor
    • Medill School of Journalism
    • Northwestern University
  • 22.
    • Interviewing
    • Building sources
  • 23.
    • Learn new interviewing techniques and approaches
    • Discuss ways of developing and handling sources
  • 24.
    • Columbo
    • We’re supposed to not know
    • Have them condescend to you
    • “ Treat me like a fifth grader”
    • Don’t have an ego about this
    • Need to be absolutely sure to write authoritatively
  • 25.
    • New at WSJ
    • Ordered to write lead news story
    • IBM
    • Earnings
    • Sweat
    • Call analyst: What’s P&L?
    • Cancel subscription
  • 26.
    • You may know the answer already
    • To wit: How old are you?
    • Answer: 51
    • Thought 52
    • Yeah, actually 52
    • If small lie, is there a bigger lie
  • 27.
    • AOL series: Almost a year into it
    • Had hundreds of confidential documents
    • Had well-placed sources
    • Editor called me into his office
    • Mused: Wouldn’t it be nice …
    • Vice president of finance
  • 28.
    • Ask the same question five times
    • But in different ways
    • At different times
    • To wit: Do you know a vice president-level finance guy who had raised questions about AOL’s finances?
  • 29.
    • When to use the notebook
    • Versus
    • When not to use the notebook
    • When to tape record vs.
    • When not to tape record
      • Billionaire: I want to be able to deny I had this conversation
    • Poll : Do you tape record most or all interviews: Y or N?
  • 30.
    • During the interview, you need to think about several things at the same time:
      • The lede
      • The images to capture
      • The details to portray
      • Is this the first of many interviews or a one-shot deal?
      • Why, why, why?
      • The cosmic point
      • Follow up questions
  • 31.
    • When people say you got it wrong, that you made a mistake, check it out thoroughly
    • Sometimes, it can help
    • Red Hat
    • The Reluctant Interviewee
    • What do you do when they won’t talk?
    • Options:
      • Call
      • E-mail
      • Letter
      • Certified letter: know they got it, but act of war?
      • Intermediary: someone they know
  • 32.
    • Take chances
      • Bridgestone/Firestone
    • Don’t take no for an answer
      • Surgeon General
    • Go there
      • Gettysburg
    • Last Words of Advice
    • Bob Woodward
      • Show up early
    • Me
      • Show up late
  • 33.
    • When starting a new investigative business story, where do you begin?
    • The onion: otherwise known as the circling effect
    • Begin on the outside, work your way in:
      • Family
      • Friends
      • Friends of friends
      • Customers
      • Suppliers
      • Competitors
      • Unions
      • Associations
      • Former employees
      • Current employees
      • Secretaries
      • Executives
  • 34.
    • At their homes
    • Afterhours
    • On weekends
    • Away from places where they are monitored or overheard
      • At bars
      • Restaurants
      • Bowling alleys
    • Places Where People Network:
      • Conventions
      • Industry gatherings
      • Trade shows
        • Exchange business cards
        • Socialize
        • Network
    • Poll : Have you met sources at:
      • A) Bars
      • B) Bowling alleys
      • C) Conventions
      • D) All of the above
  • 35.
    • Yes, they can be a bit odd
    • But they often know their stuff because they have no other life
    • Don’t Dismiss the PR People
    • Example: secret bonuses
    • But also: AT&T cable assets
      • “ You didn’t ask the right question”
    Image by flickr user Meg Marco
  • 36. Example: Anonymous tipster: “ How did you find me?”
  • 37.  
  • 38.
    • No secret
    • It takes time
    • Trust
    • Willingness to protect sources
    • Are you willing to go to jail for them?
    • Poll : Y or N?
  • 39.
    • Exchange of information
    • Once you have information they want, then you become valuable
    • You have something to barter
    • As long as it’s not confidential information
  • 40.
    • Define the terms
    • Explain why it’s important to go on the record
    • Move sources up the ladder
      • Off the record
      • On background
      • On the record
    • Sometimes, refuse to go off the record: why?
      • It can tie your hands
  • 41.
    • Reading back quotes?
      • Poll : Y or N?
    • Showing stories pre publication
      • Poll : Y or N?
  • 42.
    • Do we let sources go? Do we let them change their minds?
    • Poll : Y or N?
    • My opinion: Let sources go
    • Example: AOL
  • 43.
    • No surprises
    • Always let them know what’s going on, even if it works against you
    • Better for them to be angry at you before publication than after, when it’s too late
    • AOL
      • 21-page single-spaced letter
    • Credit raters
      • Removed lead anecdote even though information obtained independently
  • 44.
    • Repeatedly
    • A Woodward technique
    • You need to know when you can trust your sources
    • Eg.: Whether FTC would approve AOL-Time Warner merger
      • Origins: Editor: Woodward was a new reporter, too
      • FTC threatens pre publication: Last story you’ll write
      • Sources at the heart of the secret
  • 45.
    • Please feel free to contact me at [email_address]
    • And please feel free to e-mail to me questions that you would like to ask our panel of investigative business journalists for Friday’s online chat
  • 46.
    • Presented by
    • Alec Klein, professor
    • Medill School of Journalism
    • Northwestern University
  • 47.
    • Review a range of public documents available to investigative business journalists
  • 48.
    • Understand where to find public documents
    • Demystify the process of searching for public documents
    • See how public documents can be used in investigative business reporting
  • 49.
    • The secret to investigative business reporting is…
    • Start with:
      • Google
      • Lexis-Nexis
      • Factiva
  • 50.
    • You don’t need to know where all the public documents are
    • You need to know what questions to ask to find them
    • To wit: 192.com
  • 51.
    • Baltimore Sun investigation: Supermarket bankruptcy
    • Words of wise editor: “The good reporters know what’s missing”
    • Thinking: I never know what’s missing
    • Did you check for hidden depositions?
    • Not in court record: ads of cash in
    • brown paper bags
    • Before the jump on A1
  • 52.
    • What are they?
    • Where do you get them?
      • Sec.gov
      • Company Web site
  • 53.
    • 10k
    • 10 Q: What’s the first thing to look for?
    • Proxy: What’s the first thing to look for?
    • Poll : Do you regularly use SEC filings in your reporting? Y or N?
    • SEC public filings only go so far
    • What is considered “material” to investors?
    • Material: Any information related to a particular business that might be relevant to an investor's decision to buy, sell or hold a security
    • A company can slice its business into small sectors that don’t require disclosure
    • To wit: AOL
  • 54.  
  • 55.
    • Former employees
    • Sworn testimony
    • Copies of contracts
    • Business strategy
    • Where to find lawsuits
      • State and federal suits
        • Many online
      • If not online, check Lexis-Nexis
      • If not there, check Pacer for federal suits
      • http://pacer.psc.uscourts.gov (not free)
    • Pulling documents
      • Big issue?
      • Money
      • Poll : Would it be difficult to get funds at your news organization to get such documents? Y or N?
  • 56.
    • Goldmine
      • Pacer
    • For what?
      • Creditors; assets; debts; lawyers; suppliers; vendors
    • Key kinds?
      • Chapter 7: liquidation
      • Chapter 11: reorganization
  • 57.
    • SEC
    • FCC
    • FDA
      • Key: on almost every investigative business story, there is a government body that has some connection to it
    • Congressional Testimony
    • Contradictions
    • Remember the tobacco executives who claimed they didn’t know anything about the addictive power of cigarettes?
  • 58.
    • Company e-mail
    • Internal newsletters
      • Get on the mailing list, if possible
    • Remember: Don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t break into computer system
      • Chiquita Banana case
    • Wall Street analyst reports
  • 59.
    • Property records:
      • County or other local office
      • Many online
      • Good to check for:
      • Size, details of executive’s home
    • Other great resources:
      • Planning department
      • Zoning
      • Construction
      • Driver records
        • Depends on state; eg. Maryland, need permission of driver for records
  • 60.
    • Better Business Bureau
      • Consumer complaints
    • Uniform Commercial Code
      • State records, secretary of state usually; shows who has borrowed money, what used as collateral, etc.
    • Incorporation records
      • Usually secretary of state; records of founding of the business; who owns it; its executives; etc.
    • Hoovers
      • Hoovers.com
  • 61.
    • Can get detailed tax filings—990s—of their finances from the nonprofits themselves
    • Or try Guidestar at www.guidestar.org
  • 62.
    • Airplane ownership search
      • Landings.com
    • Finding lawyers
      • Martindale.com
    • Message boards, blogs
    • Web site ownership
      • http://www.whois.sc/
    • Internet archive: old Web sites
      • www.archive.org
    • ProfNet: e-mail queries for experts
      • www.profnet.com
  • 63.
    • Referenceusa.com
    • Superpages.com
    • AnyWho.com
    • Switchboard.com
    • Infobel.com: international directory
    • AutoTrack and other pay Sites:
      • Expensive
      • Metered
      • Even at The Washington Post: key holder
      • But good resource for information for investigative or beat reporting
        • Personal information: telephone numbers
        • Neighbors
        • Legal judgments
  • 64.
    • Opensecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics
    • Lobbyists and Other Legislative Resources:
      • http://sopr.senate.gov : lobbying
      • http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fara : lobbying on behalf of foreign entities
      • Congressional Research Service: http://www.opencrs.com
      • GAO Reports: www.gao.gov
      • Thomas Web site: http://thomas.loc.gov/ : basic legislation, Congressional reports and records
    • Tray.com: Political Moneyline
    • Publicintegrity.com: Center for Public Integrity
    • Followthemoney.org: The Institute on Money in State Politics
  • 65.
    • www.reporter.org/desktop/tips/johndoe.htm
      • Born, married, died
      • Previous addresses, relatives, associates
      • Lawsuits, bankruptcies, divorce, criminal, traffic
      • Home phone
      • Attended college
      • Real estate
      • Etc.
    • Courtesy of Duff Wilson of The New York Times
    • Truth About Criminal Records:
      • There is a national criminal record database but it is not available to the public
      • FBI database
      • Public access to criminal records controlled at the state level
      • Each state has different rules about who may access records and what records will be available
      • Some records handled at the county level
  • 66.
    • FOIA: the good and the bad
      • Secret bonuses
      • “ Oh, that bonus”
      • Reprocessors
        • List of reprocessors
        • No List
        • List
        • Names missing from list
    • Poll : Have you filed a FOIA request? Y or N?
    • Poll : How helpful have you found it?
      • A) Very
      • B) Moderately
      • C) Not at all
    • Beware:
      • They might leave stuff out
      • Of fishing expeditions
      • Of unexpected costs
    • Sample FOIA letters: www.nfoic.org/sample-foia-letters
    • FOIA letter generator: www.rcfp.org/foialetter/index.php
  • 67.  
  • 68.
    • Not public
    • They may say “Confidential”
    • You need to interpret, analyze, translate
  • 69.  
  • 70.
    • Please feel free to contact me at [email_address]
    • And please feel free to e-mail to me questions that you would like to ask our panel of investigative business journalists for Friday’s online chat
  • 71.
    • Presented by
    • Alec Klein, professor
    • Medill School of Journalism
    • Northwestern University
  • 72.
    • Examine effective approaches to organizing, writing and presenting the investigative business story
  • 73.
    • Identify ways to organize information during the investigative business reporting process
    • Look at ways to organize material during the investigative business writing process
    • Review ways to present investigative business stories across platforms
  • 74.
    • Develop your own system
    • Be your own best secretary
      • It’s not glamorous but someone has to do it
      • Keeping track of mounds of documents, notepads, calls—need to be organized
    • My system:
      • Daily log
      • Phone log
      • Contact list
      • Cork board
        • Visualize key players
        • Calendar
        • Themes
  • 75.
    • The lede:
      • Hours or days or weeks of anguish
      • Blood on the computer
      • Should’ve done something else
      • Work with hands
      • Like a farmer
      • Poll : Do you know what I’m talking about? Y or N?
  • 76.
    • LAS VEGAS -- Chastity Ferguson kept watch over four sleepy children late one Friday as she flipped a pack of corn dogs into a cart at her new favorite grocery store: Wal-Mart.
    • The Wal-Mart Supercenter, a pink stucco box twice as big as a Home Depot, combines a full-scale supermarket with the usual discount mega-store. For the 26-year-old Ferguson, the draw is simple.
    • "You can't beat the prices," said the hotel cashier, who makes $400 a week. "I come here because it's cheap."
    Image by flickr user Lone Primate
  • 77.
    • Classic anecdotal lede
    • Simple, straight forward
    • Nothing fancy about it
    • Quote that gets to the heart of the story: “You can’t beat the prices”
    • We can do this
    • The Los Angeles Times; that’s the lede from a series that won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting
  • 78.
    • Me in the old days: Frantically flipping through notebook searching for the lede
    • Not there
    • Me now: Report the lede beforehand so you don’t have to search for it later in your notes
    • To wit: Lede to Stealing Time--grumpy old man
    • WSJ approach to ledes:
      • All about the purity of the lede
      • Must be exactly on point
      • Not sort of the point
        • Joke:
          • Colon
          • Question mark
          • Pithy-sentence lede
  • 79.
    • KISS
    • Keep
    • It
    • Simple
    • Stupid
  • 80.
    • Okay, enough about the torture of writing
    • Here’s an overlooked aspect of writing:
      • Tone
      • The sound of the story
      • Rarely is it premeditated
      • It should be
    • THE BOY LOVES GAMES OF CHANCE. He loves slot machines and playing cards and instant-win lottery tickets. He learned at an early age to count coins, and to bet them. He learned in the hospital that money comes in get-well cards.
    • Lisa Pollak’s story
    • Baltimore Sun
    • Winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing
  • 81.
    • Read a book or other story that reflects what you’re doing
    • To wit: Writing about the civil war
    • Read the classic, Killer Angels
    • Wrote lede to reenactment of the Gettysburg Battle
    • Using old English
    • Should’ve mentioned
    • it to my editors
  • 82.
    • Let’s Get Down to the Nitty Gritty:
      • Organizing the investigative business story
      • How I do it:
        • Divide by interviewee
        • Annotate my own notes
        • Develop a detailed outline from the notes
        • Review and re-review the notes
        • Can take days—or weeks
        • But you have a roadmap
  • 83.
    • The nut: everyone knows the nut, right?
    • How about the so-what graf:
      • Otherwise known, at least to me, as the cosmic point
      • The reason why we’re reading your story
      • Examples:
        • Greed
        • Hubris
        • Ambition
    • The To-Be-Sure Clause:
      • Wall Street Journal thing
      • The exception to the rule, or the trend
      • Up high
      • To immunize yourself
      • Because there’s always an exception
  • 84.
    • Give the company or individual plenty of time to react and respond
    • Not enough to call the night before
    • Call, e-mail, stop by—and repeatedly
    • To wit: AOL
      • Six weeks, an eternity
      • Risk: story leaks to competitors
      • But must be done
  • 85.
    • One of my last Washington Post investigations in 2008:
      • Military contracting
      • In desert in suit (not a good idea)
      • Carrying notepad
      • Digital camera
      • Camcorder
    • Poll : Are you actively using multimedia in your reporting? Y or N?
    • Poll : For your reporting, have you used a:
      • A) Audio recorder
      • B) Digital camera
      • C) Camcorder
      • D) All of the above
  • 86.
    • Now, we are all photographers
      • When you’re shooting, take a lot of pictures—at least 100 images
      • Camera is your notepad
      • Record moments as they unfold
      • Don’t wait for the perfect moment
    • The first way you view a scene is not always the best
    • Try different shooting angles
      • Eye level
      • From above on a chair
      • From below on the floor
      • Look for the inherent logic of the shot;
        • eg,. a shot of giant might be better from a higher angle
    • Don’t shoot everything from a wide angle
    • Look for other opportunities, such as close-ups, which can have more impact
    • Imagine, say, an expressive face
  • 87.
    • We’re now all in the business of gathering audio
      • Online audio stories
      • Online audio with photos—slideshows
    • All you need:
      • A digital camera
      • A digital recorder that can connect to a computer to download audio files
    • Audio Slideshows:
      • You need to show how the story begins
      • How the subject gets from point A to B to C
      • Show in the photos what the audio is telling
      • The photos must match the audio
      • So take lots of pictures
      • Helps to ensure that images match sound
      • Usually: you don’t want a single image to linger onscreen for more than 10 seconds
      • For a three-minute slideshow, plan for at least 18 photos
  • 88.
    • There are two kinds of sound
      • Natural sound, or “nats”
        • For a slideshow, you usually need natural sound—eg., the sound of bacon frying in the background, the roar of the crowd
        • Turn on the recorder, point it at the natural sound and capture a lot of it
        • May help later during editing to bridge sections of your audio story
    • Interviews
      • Beware of loud background sound
      • Move interview subject away from that noise
      • Hold the recorder close to the subject, within a foot and a half
      • Avoid talking over the interviewee: “Uh huh” et al
      • If necessary: Nod head
      • Beware of wind
      • Stay away from yes or no questions
      • Ask open-ended questions:
        • Why?
  • 89.
    • We are all videographers now
    • Use a variety of focal lengths and angles
      • Establishing shot, wide, tells the viewer where the story is taking place
      • Medium sot: takes the viewer closer to the action
      • Tight: close up
    • No zooms or pans
    • Shoot and move: Zoom with your feet
    • Limit motion of the camera; use set shots
  • 90.
    • The rule of thirds: Divide the screen into thirds, with subject taking up one of the thirds—more visually arresting
    • Rule of 180 degrees
      • Which way is the subject’s nose pointing?
      • Stay on that side
      • Don’t switch sides
      • Disorients viewer
    • Jump Cuts:
      • Common mistake
      • Two things don’t match visually
      • To wit: Person is in one spot; in the next frame, he magically jumps to another spot
      • One way to avoid jump cuts: have person or action come into and out of frame before moving on
  • 91.
    • Walk away from the story
    • Put yourself in the subject’s shoes
    • Is it fair?
    • Go through the story line by line
    • Different than fact checking; it’s all in the nuances
    • Poll : Have you ever been the subject of a profile? Y or N?
  • 92.
    • The story may carry your name but it belongs to the paper, Web site, television station
    • It’s a communal project; must get buy in; editors must be on board
    • Must be willing to let go of the language; be amenable to change
    • One third of the investigative business story is the reporting
    • Another third is the writing
    • The final third is the in-house hurdles
  • 93.
    • Please feel free to contact me at [email_address]
    • And please feel free to e-mail to me questions that you would like to ask our panel of investigative business journalists for Friday’s online chat
  • 94.
    • Please join me tomorrow at 1 p.m EST for an online chat with some of the nation’s leading investigative business journalists
    • The online chat will include:
      • Alexandra Berzon of the Wall Street Journal whose work led the Las Vegas Sun to the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in public service
      • Gary Cohn, winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting at the Baltimore Sun
      • Mark Maremont, part of a team of reporters whose investigative stories earned The Wall Street Journal the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in public service
      • Larry Roberts, executive editor of the nonprofit Huffington Post Investigative Fund and former investigations editor at The Washington Post who has directly overseen three Pulitzer Prize winners
      • Bill Sizemore, investigative reporter at The Virginian-Pilot who was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting
  • 95.
    • Look forward to tomorrow’s online chat
    • And please feel free to contact with me with any questions