Investigative Resources

Putting It All Together

  • Build a team.

  • Database or tech support

  • Graphics and design

  • Photo

  • Internet

  • Upper editors

  • Give your team a copy of the proposal and update members regularly.

Managing the information

  • Create a chronology, either in text or spreadsheet format.

  • Track records requests. Which ones are outstanding? What are the obstacles? What date did they promise to give you the records?

  • Create a spreadsheet of sources, contacts for the project.

  • Make your own database or spreadsheet for your data.

  • Create a common area in the system for sharing files.

    Moving a project to the front burner

  • Collect your data and analyze it.

  • Spend some time pre-reporting.

  • Bounce your theory off of the experts.

  • Look for real-world examples to back up your data. If you can’t easily find anecdotal evidence to back up your story, it might not be a story.

  • Build internal support for your project. Make sure your top editors are on board. Talk with your editor about how much time you will need, what resources you need etc.

  • Provide a written project proposal and update your editors regularly about your findings.

Now comes the hard part: writing

  • What kind of presentation works best for your story?

  • Narratives with a beginning, middle and end that build suspense.

  • Serial narratives.

  • Traditional multi-part series with different themes on each day.

  • Focus on one example to tell the whole story. Follow a single case from beginning to end to show how the system works.

    Writing investigative stories

  • The rolling investigation

  • Go with your strongest angle. Keep working on the follow-ups.

  • Write what you don’t know as well as what you know. People are often motivated to help you fill in the blanks.

  • Make sure potential sources know how to reach you.

  • Go back and publish a recap story that connects all of the dots for readers.

  • Write with authority.

  • Cite your sources but don’t over-attribute.

  • If it’s something you dug up, give yourself credit.

  • Don’t overdo the numbers. Pick your strongest numbers. Put the rest in a graphic.

  • Post PDFs of key documents, data, links to websites online.

Checking facts

  • Before you publish, check every verifiable fact.

  • Retrace your steps. How did you get each piece of key information? Can you document it?

  • Make sure everyone in the story has had a chance to comment or take issue with your reporting. Can’t reach someone? Send a letter.

  • Don’t be rushed into a story. Hold it if you aren’t sure.

  • A small mistake (wrong age, date) can lead to a correction and allow people to question the integrity of the whole story.

  • Ask people to read your story who aren’t familiar with it. What questions do they have?

Avoiding lawsuits

  • Understand libel and the elements required:

  • False statement that identifies someone and harms them.

  • Plaintiffs must prove you were negligent (for private individuals) or acted with actual malice (for public officials).

  • Don’t hide from corrections.

  • Privileged documents and statements:

  • Court testimony, police reports, government documents – must give fair and accurate report

  • False light

Avoiding lawsuits

  • Resources:

  • Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press legal hotline

  • FOI Oklahoma, Joey Senat

How I got the story …

How I got the story …

• Records used: land records, city code enforcement records and tapes, legislative voting history, court records

How I got the story …

  • The speeding Drummonds of Osage County


  • Records used: traffic tickets filed in Osage County, land records, OHP records on license suspensions

Extras you can add to your story online

  • Videos

  • Audio

  • PDFs of documents

  • Maps

  • Sidebars you don’t have room for in print

Web tips

  • Online extras

  • Searchable data

  • Links to related past stories

  • Slideshows

  • If you reference a key document, people want to see it. Add a .pdf on your website.

  • Don’t mark up or highlight documents until you scan them.

  • Consider redacting social security numbers, home addresses.

Web tools

  • Caspio – allows you to post searchable databases online. Price scaled for size of company.

  • Google Fusion – allows you to build maps for your website and databases with little programming knowledge--

  • YouTube – quick solution to upload and feature video on your site.

Social media

  • Use Twitter to get story ideas, Facebook to find people to talk about them

  • People say things that make news on social media.

  • Tread cautiously with juveniles.

  • Photos may be subject to copyright if they are professionally done. Otherwise, profiles set to public are fair game.

  • Build a list of local, state and national officials and organizations to follow in Twitter.