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Investigative Business Journalism Webinar
 

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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    Investigative Business Journalism Webinar Investigative Business Journalism Webinar Presentation Transcript

      • Presented by
      • Alec Klein, professor
      • Medill School of Journalism
      • Northwestern University
      • 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
      • To begin with, you need PHOAM
      • P :assion
      • H :ook
      • O :riginality
      • A :ccess
      • M :arket
      Image by flickr user marttj
      • 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
      • 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)
      • 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?
    • 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?
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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?
      • 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?
      • Mistake: Never show editors your raw notes
      • Made that mistake on AOL
      • Editor: Don’t get it, nothing here. Go back to work
      • Then Enron happened
      • Editors: What was Alec working on?
      • This time: I wrote a memo
      • Set free for a year
      • 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?
      • 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
      • Let’s say your editors still say no
      • Then what?
      • Set your own agenda
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • Presented by
      • Alec Klein, professor
      • Medill School of Journalism
      • Northwestern University
      • Interviewing
      • Building sources
      • Learn new interviewing techniques and approaches
      • Discuss ways of developing and handling sources
      • 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
      • New at WSJ
      • Ordered to write lead news story
      • IBM
      • Earnings
      • Sweat
      • Call analyst: What’s P&L?
      • Cancel subscription
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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?
      • 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?
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
    • Example: Anonymous tipster: “ How did you find me?”
    •  
      • No secret
      • It takes time
      • Trust
      • Willingness to protect sources
      • Are you willing to go to jail for them?
      • Poll : Y or N?
      • 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
      • 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
      • Reading back quotes?
        • Poll : Y or N?
      • Showing stories pre publication
        • Poll : Y or N?
      • Do we let sources go? Do we let them change their minds?
      • Poll : Y or N?
      • My opinion: Let sources go
      • Example: AOL
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • Presented by
      • Alec Klein, professor
      • Medill School of Journalism
      • Northwestern University
      • Review a range of public documents available to investigative business journalists
      • 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
      • The secret to investigative business reporting is…
      • Start with:
        • Google
        • Lexis-Nexis
        • Factiva
      • 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
      • 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
      • What are they?
      • Where do you get them?
        • Sec.gov
        • Company Web site
      • 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
    •  
      • 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?
      • Goldmine
        • Pacer
      • For what?
        • Creditors; assets; debts; lawyers; suppliers; vendors
      • Key kinds?
        • Chapter 7: liquidation
        • Chapter 11: reorganization
      • 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?
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • Can get detailed tax filings—990s—of their finances from the nonprofits themselves
      • Or try Guidestar at www.guidestar.org
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
    •  
      • Not public
      • They may say “Confidential”
      • You need to interpret, analyze, translate
    •  
      • 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
      • Presented by
      • Alec Klein, professor
      • Medill School of Journalism
      • Northwestern University
      • Examine effective approaches to organizing, writing and presenting the investigative business story
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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?
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • KISS
      • Keep
      • It
      • Simple
      • Stupid
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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?
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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?
      • 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
      • 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
      • 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
      • Look forward to tomorrow’s online chat
      • And please feel free to contact with me with any questions