Aug 09

Find Sources By Using “If This, Then That”

I love it when I can get software to do work for me. Quicker, better,  smarter reporting– that’s the goal of this blog.

So  here’s one new tool that saves me so much time and does something I would never do on my own — search Twitter for sources on a topic and compile them.

IFTTT, which stands for If This, Then That is the website. You can pair social media or apps together so if one things happens in one you can do something or collect that info in another.

So here’s an example. I was teaching Arts Journalists recently and so I wanted to see if I could find some sources for them in the metro Syracuse area.  I figured people who tweet using #syracusearts as a hashtag are people who know and care about the arts — and thus could be sources. And some would be sources they might not find in traditional ways.

So ITTT has what are called “recipes,” really formulas,  for how to do hundreds of functions. On the left (below) I put in my hashtag and on the right I told it to compile people who tweet with that hashtag into a twitter list.  Here’s the recipe:



Here are three sources that it compiled for me. Two I would have known,  but not the second:


Full credit for teaching me this goes to Doug Haddix, and his seminar at the conference of   Investigative Reporters and Editors, IRE,  this summer.

Take 10 minutes and read all the recipes at IFTTT — and see what great new things you can get it to do for you.

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Jul 15

Celebrate the FOIA Anniversary by Sending One

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act, which gives citizens, as well as journalists, insights into the workings of their government. Under this law, citizens can ask for any records kept by the government.  They can be in paper, disc, video, code or any form.  There’s a similar public records law in every state.


Why? Because they are the public’s records. And the public pays for people to keep those records. In a democracy, people have the right to know what their government is doing.

Sure there are a few exceptions. The biggies at the federal level are intra-agency materials, i.e. drafts before decisions are finalized. And of course, national security. At the state and local level the most frustrating exceptions are when an investigation is still ongoing.

But I tell students, presume the information is available and make the government agency tell you why you can’t have it.

So to celebrate the anniversary of the FOIA, and to help your reporting, I encourage you to find a local, state or federal agency that has some records that might beef up a story or net a story for you.

And it’s so easy. You just write a letter.

No, wait, a website will actually write the letter for you.

And in case you’re interested, the federal act has just been improved and here are the details on how.     If you’re interested in all that’s going on with FOIA, check out the hashtag #50DaysofFOIA.

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Jul 05

Eid al-Fitr Is Likely an Underreported Story

Ramadan_Mubarak-800pxToday is Eid al-Fitr, one of the holiest days for Muslims. It’s the end of Ramadan, the season of fasting and prayer  (see previous post or read more here).   I haven’t seen many stories in local or national media about Ramadan over the last month. I hope I see some stories today as Muslims break fast and celebrate tonight and for the next two days.

For, you see, more people who call themselves Muslim live in my metro area than people who call themselves Jewish. And I see stories each year around the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Why not Ramadan or Muslim holy days? I think it is because most journalists don’t know much about Islam (see story tips in this post).

So if you want to find out how many Muslims are in your area, the Association of Religion Data Archives,, is the best place of which I know. Click here for a direct link to search by metropolitan area. You can also search by zip code or county.

For example, the top 5 most populous religious groups in metro Syracuse are:

  • Roman Catholic: ~ 199,000
  • United Methodist: ~ 30,000
  • Evangelical Lutheran: ~ 8,000
  • Episcopal: ~6300
  • Muslim: ~ 6,000

Check out your area — and that an be your start to finding sources and doing stories about Muslims. I think it’s part of our ethical responsibility, especially at this time when there is so much misunderstanding of Islam, for the media to serve an educational role.

Another tip — want to find someone who is observing  Eid in your area? Go to Twitter Advanced Search. Put in “Ramadan” or “Eid al-Fitr” and then (do this for sure) put your hometown in the section for Places. It will bring back posts from people who have their location services turned on and are within about 30 miles of that city and have typed that keyword in a recent tweet. Then you can reach out to him/her/them on twitter.

Posted in Backgrounding for News Stories, Finding Sources, Finding Stories | Leave a comment
Jun 29

Use Social Media to Find Locals Involved in Breaking News Stories Happening Outside Your Area

So a big national or international story occurs. Your news director wants some  local connection. Social media can help you find someone related to the story. For example, let’s think about the recent explosions in Turkey. You can search on facebook for people in your area who might have said something about Turkey.

As I started typing  “Istanbul” in the main search bar at the top of the page I got a list of trending keywords. I clicked on that and then at the left (see below) I could filter it by location, so I put my hometown in, Syracuse. That pulls up posts from those who have tagged that they are in or near Syracuse.  Here is what I found:

Facebook_search_TurkeyThe first is a post by a Syracuse University professor noting that if his study abroad course had happened  (apparently it didn’t) that students and faculty would be leaving from Turkey today. He might still be interesting to talk to as he probably has some contacts there.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 4.22.50 PM


I also searched  for “people in Syracuse who visited Turkey” and that brought up some locals  who had been there– see the screenshot at the left.

Most searches by place will look within 25 miles of the city you specify.


Twitter can also be helpful to search by Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 5.05.15 PMhashtag or keyword and then by place. Go to the twitter search page, then click Advanced Search underneath the search box.  On the advanced page at the right, note the circled portion shows where you can search by place.


I put in Turkey as a a keyword and Syracuse as the place. Up came a post in which a local man was talking today about being with some work colleagues from Turkey, and expressing concern for others in Turkey. So he and his colleague from Turkey would be worth contacting, as would his employer, who must have a branch office in Turkey.


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Jun 13

Learn More About Guns in Light of #Orlando

I am not very familiar with guns and think I should be. I think all journalists should be.  In light of the shootings in Orlando, some of the resources I mentioned in a previous post are still valid:

  • a primer from Mother Jones, the investigative news magazine,  which explains a lot of the basics of guns and ammunition.
  • Summary of mass killings in U.S., including an interactive map

Mother Jones also has an article today about the gun that police say the Orlando shooter used, whether you call it an assault rifle a modern sporting rifle.

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Jun 06

Helping Your Audience in Hurricane Season

FEMA_logoWith Florida under a Tropical Storm Watch, I thought it time to update and repost some resources for both journalists and citizens related to hurricanes.


Posted in Continuing Coverage, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Jun 06

How to Report on Ramadan

Last night began Ramadan, the holiest month for the world’s 1.3 billion. Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world, and most of its followers are not in the Middle East.

Here are some resources for covering Ramadan in the next month:

  • To get background on how to cover the religion see this primer for ReligionLink, produced by the Religion Newswriters  Foundation housed at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
  • Beliefnet, an independent site reporting on religion,  has a guide to explain Ramadan.
  • CNN has published a helpful etiquette guide from CNN  on what to do and not to do.
  • The Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, is an educational and social justice group which can provide many resources for journalists. One of its key goals is to challenge stereotypes of Muslims and Islam.

Story leads:

  • An explainer on Islam
  • A live shot from an evening gathering when Muslims are breaking their fast
  • How public schools accommodate students who are fasting
  • Profile of an athlete who fasts
  • Works of charity that the Muslim community is doing this month as part of its commitment during Ramadan
  • A morning live shot with an imam or president of a mosque to answer common questions about Islam.
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Sep 01

Ready Rep on Sabbatical

I’m taking a break from the blog to work on a new online media law class. Hope to return soon. –Barbara Fought 

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Aug 25

Several Services Offer Ways to Track Bankruptcies


Wall Street Journal reporter Katy Stech

updated 9-3 to correct information about PacerMonitor

“Every reporter is going to have to cover a bankruptcy case that means something to their local community,” says Wall Street Journal reporter Katy Stech, who covers bankruptcy exclusively.

The traditional way, the government’s website, Public Access to Court Electronic Records, PACER, costs 10 cents a page, plus some downloading/search fees.

“But it is a pain to log in every day and put in the case number each time,” says Katy. pacer_logo

That’s because PACER doesn’t save any of your previous searches. So Katy has found a better way, that while may cost more, will make reporting easier.

Katy subscribes to the Ready Reporter philosophy of making reporting quicker, better and smarter–- whenever you can, set up the information to come to you. Then you don’t have to remember and make time to go get it.

She recommends that reporters subscribe to or  if they can afford one,  as these services will track and email you the new filings. She says both are reputable and have the same information as PACER, but a better interface.

“Say you care only about two or three companies,” says Stech. “You can have the settings so it refreshes the dockets every day or every hour and it will email them to you.”

Inforuptcy doesn’t have a monthly fee for infrequent users, just a per document cost. But  inforuptcy_logoto get auto tracking it’s $9/month and the email alert function is $99/month, again with a cost per page.  It has no free trial but you can develop familiarity with the site by looking at free expired listings. Or will give you a free demo.

pacermonitor_logoPacerMonitor is  regularly $49 per month and 15 cents per document, but does offer a 14-day free trial. It also now boosts an automatic feed to a DropBox account. Journalists can contact the company to waive the monthly fee so they just pay 10 cents per page.

If you’re at a small organization with limited budget, then go for PACER. The cost is 10 cents per page with a maximum of $3 per document, even if over 30 pages. However, fees are waived when you use less than $15 for the quarter.

Two tips from Katy’s experience:

  • Go beyond the documents. “There’s no replacing a human source,” says Katy . She adds you must talk to a knowledgeable source and ask that person to walk you through the complications of the  case.
  • Befriend lawyers to get the documents for free. Ask them to send you the documents when they file them.

Whatever system you will use, learn it now –- so when that big bankruptcy occurs, you already know how to get on and navigate the system.

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Aug 13

Alert Services Helped Producer During Breaking News

wxiilogoIf you tuned into WXII-TV at 11 p.m. on June 17, you’d have heard live phone interviews with two people in Charleston, S.C., explaining the chaos following a shooting at a local church. The story, as you know now, captivated the national news agenda for several days.

That’s two live interviews, off the top of the show,  airing at a station in Winston-Salem, N.C., 287 miles and a state away from the scene. That’s good producing!

Credit it to producer Kaitlyn Richards, just a year out of college, who used her social media experience and the reporting contacts of colleagues to give her viewers those first-hand stories, less than two hours after the shooting.


Kaitlyn Richards

Kaitlyn was in the booth, producing the 10 p.m. show on a sister station, when the assignment editor told her of an alert from NBC about a possible shooting in Charleston. She grabbed her phone and began thumbing through Twitter posts.  Most helpful, she says, was a Twitter account with scanner traffic that told her multiple people were shot at a church, some fatally. Of course, she didn’t air that until she checked it out.

As Kaitlyn juggled timing the newscast on the air, researching the story and reworking the rundown for the 11 p.m. show, the morning producer, who’d just arrived for her shift, jumped in to help from the newsroom. She found a web producer at a Charleston station to text Kaitlyn what he knew.

“I followed him on Twitter,” Kaitlyn explains. “I realized he was right there and he was more than willing to talk to us.”

So she booked him for the top of her 11 p.m. show.

The anchor for the 11, also watching this news unfold,  told Kaitlyn she had a friend on her honeymoon in Charleston. She tracked her down and found she was  just a block away, locked down in her hotel room and scared. She also agreed to talk.

“I blew out the whole (11 p.m.) show,” Kaitlyn explains. “This was one of those nights when you get off and you know you’ve done well.  “

Tips from Kaitlyn about using alerts and Twitter:

  • Set up alerts from AP.  “I trust the AP…it rarely quotes anonymous sources,”  she says. While others might be earlier on Twitter, Kaitlyn has learned over time that AP is the most credible.
  • Subscribe to alert services from the major national news outlest. “I have them on my phone,” she says. “If my phone starts going nuts I know something is going on.”
  • Watch Twitter religiously. “After 8 p.m. I refresh my feed very 5 minutes, ” she adds.

To learn more about how to read tweets right from the geographic area where the news is breaking, see this post about the app,


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