Investigative Resources

Creating time for projects

  • View yourself as a cook. Dailies are on the front burner, mid-range stories in the oven and long-term projects on the back burner.

  • Try to spend some time each day working on each category. Don’t let projects sit without stirring them.

  •  Keep a running list of tasks to accomplish on your mid-range and long-term projects. When you’re waiting on phone calls or other actions for daily stories, work on those items.

Don’t forget about human sources

  • People lead you to documents and documents lead you to people. Use both to “triangulate.’’

  •  Cultivate sources regularly. Have a system for saving business cards, contacts etc.

  •  Spend at least some time checking out tips from sources, even those that seem unlikely to pan out.

Is it worth a project or just a daily story?

  • Is the issue important? Are there real victims?

  •  Has the story been done before?

  • Can you break new ground by obtaining records that haven’t been released?

  •  Will it make a good human story with characters and drama?

  • What results will likely follow?

Questions to ask when you get a tip …

  •  Has the caller exhausted all avenues of appeal?

  •  Are there documents to back up the story?

  • Who can you get to go on the record about the story?

  • Is it just a problem for one person or possibly many?

  •  What is the caller’s motivation?

Coming up with good ideas

  •  Sources are key

  •  Read agendas, ask for the full packet of info that the board gets

  • Routinely ask for the documents: tort claims, personnel actions etc.

  • Localize big national stories

  • Look for larger issues in anecdotal stories

  • Create email alerts

  • Use Facebook, Twitter other social media

Investigative story ideas

Run a background check on all key public officials you cover:

  •  Criminal, civil issues?

  • Lies on their job apps or resume?

  •  Public disclosure forms, campaign contributions

  • Check the environmental record of major industries in your town

  • DEQ, EPA

  • Ask for payrolls, line-item expenditures

Investigative story ideas

  •  Use your city’s pet license database to find favorite pet names or breeds. Or: do your city officials have their animals licensed?

  •  Use traffic ticket data to find members of the “100-mile-an-hour club” or to find speed traps.

  • Use voter registration data to find the most faithful voters, or to find elected officials who can’t make it to the polls.

  • Use day-care center inspection data to find centers most often cited.

  • Use jail blotter data to find people most frequently arrested or to analyze arrests by race.

Investigative story ideas

  • Who is cited most often for code violations in your city?

  • How often does your state environmental agency waive fines?

  •  Which city employee claims the most overtime?

  •  Who are the highest paid city (or school or county) employees?

  •  Examine teacher turnover, pay and experience at low-performing schools.