Apr 27

Track Charities with a 990

Part of a series on how databases can add value to daily news stories. 

We’re coming up on the time when non-profits and charities have to file their 990 reports to the IRS, giving basic financial information, salaries of top employees, and an overview of  their missions. You can find great tidbits in these reports. They can give you background on a new organization. Or you can compare the costs and expenditures of  similar groups to each other  The required forms are due May 15 for those non-profits who run on a calendar year, so start your plans!

Guidestar logoA non-profit is required to show you a copy at its main headquarters. You can also get one, and past years’ copies, free online at Guidestar.  It posts them within two months of filing.

Guidestar gets the forms from the IRS and the organizations themselves.  Its database contains more than five million forms!

Just like with income taxes,  the non-profits can get an extension until Aug. 15 or even Nov. 15. For those operating on another fiscal year it is, according to Guidestar, due by the 15th day of the fifth month after  its fiscal year ends. So for example, a charity that  operates on a July -June fiscal year, must produce one by Nov. 15.   You might want to put a ticker on your calendar.

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Apr 23

Database Quickies: Property Records

Part of a series  on databases that add value to a daily story.

A well-known person in our area, under federal investigation, suddenly put his house up for sale.  It became a page 1 story in the local paper, with details about the house. The story included the house layout, the number of rooms, and the home’s value.  The reporter may have gotten all this from an online real estate listing, but did you know a lot of this information, and sometimes more,  is available through online property records provided by municipal governments?

The county in which I live puts all the property tax records online for easy perusing. I can find out the number of rooms, the home’s assessment, the taxes required (and whether they’ve been paid), and even comparables  in the same area.  I can trace the ownership and see how much each owner paid for the home.

Reporters can use  property records to confirm ownership of a home, find an address when they need to send a photographer to get photos/video of it, or go themselves for  an evening home interview with someone who has been ducking them.

Many cities and counties have property tax records online. Check at your county’s website or call the local property tax office.  You can pay several online services for records, but before you do, see BRB Publications. It has the  best general directory I’ve found to find free public records by state.  BRB, Tempe, Ariz.,  publishes books and online sites  for locating public records.

Leave a comment below if you know of other master sites for free property records or tell us ways you’ve used property records in a story.

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Apr 19

Database Quickies: Corporation Filings to SEC

Part of a series  on databases that add value to a daily story.

An international  company with a small plant aways from where I live announced it is closing that facility and  laying off 150 employees. The closure,  in a small town of about 8000 residents, became big news there and led one of the local TV newscasts that night.

In all the stories I read, saw or listened to,  no reporter mentioned that this same corporation ran a plant just 22 miles down the road from the one it was closing.  I’m guessing they didn’t know.

So how did I know? I skimmed through the company’s filings on Edgar, the online database of required company filings  at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Now I’m no business expert, but years ago I interviewed the New York Times’ business reporter Diana Henriques, @dianabhenriques,  who gave me tips on what forms would be most helpful to reporters:

  • Start your search on the 8th line on the left, "Search for "Company Filings".

    10-K, the annual report;

  • 10- Q, covering business operations,  property, finances, pending suits, and background on the officers;
  • 8-K,  for significant changes in the company such as a sale,  new management, or a court judgment.

The SEC publishes  a list of all the forms by number so you can look for others that might be interesting.

The site can appear a bit clunky to navigate as the interface isn’t intuitive. But if you spend 10 minutes one day with its tutorial learning to navigate it, then when you need a quick factoid or a new angle on that company, you’ll be able to maneuver through the site quickly.

Remember the SEC only requires these filings from companies who sell securities, including stock.

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Apr 17

Database Quickies: Census

Start of a series on databases accessible quickly to add value to a daily story. 

Here's just a portion of the screen from the Census Quick Facts page for Onondaga County, N.Y.

I’ve just finished teaching students about databases that can be accessed quickly and can make a story stronger with context or a take-away fact. Reporters, especially in TV,  have so little time now to research anything, so I thought @readyreporter readers might like to know about some of these quick helps.  I’ll start today and share several over the next few weeks.

One easy-to-use site is the Census Quick Facts database.  While digging through the full census site  is a bit daunting, the Quick Facts page is just three clicks away and gives a lot of interesting information such as:

  • population under 5, or over 65
  • number of veterans
  • home ownership rate
  • commute time
  • per capita (money) income and median household income
  • home residency more than one year
  • business ownership by women and minorities
  • building permits

You can search by city or county and it doesn’t take long to add up the numbers for the counties in your media market.  Try it out.

And if you have a database or website that is essential to your reporting, leave a comment below. I’d like to learn from you.

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Apr 10

Top Five Web Sites to Follow News

Job requirement: keep up with the news. So what are the best sites to check or autoload on your web browser?

In our student newsrooms, we see the AP wires within the ENPS system where we write scripts. But in addition,  I suggest producers in my radio reporting class keep five websites open, on various tabs in their browser,  to check regularly. You can adapt them to your computer, smartphone or IPad:

I love newsmap.jp, as a quick way to see what’s in the news. Delighted to find out it comes from the designer of my favorite app, Flipboard. 

Newsmap a graphical representation of headlines on Google News, with the most frequent stories gaining the largest space and type. It includes these world, national, business, technology, sports, entertainment and health categories. You  pull up headlines in just one of the topics, or see them all.  This treemap is courtesy of design engineer Marcos Weskamp, San Francisco,  @marumushi, also of Flipboard fame.

  • County 911 dispatch log Our county, fortunately,  publishes its log so we can track accidents and emergencies. They appear in chronological order and with locations and the name of the policy agency who is responding.
  • News release email account which we monitor for incoming media releases.
  • Audio feeds from  news services which we are licensed to use.
  • Our own online news website,  NCC News Online , so we know what’s being published  as we work on our radio cast.

What are the must-haves that you keep available through the day? Leave a message below.


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Apr 03

Help for covering religion this week

Okay, so you didn’t grow up Jewish or Christian and you need a little help this week.  It’s Holy Week for Christians, and Passover begins Saturday for Jews, so here’s some key resources to help you understand the days, their history and peoples’ observances.

ReligionHeadlines, one of the several websites affiliated with Religion Newswriters, @ReligionReport,   has several backgrounders that can help on Judiasm.  It links to an about.com page with resources on the basics of  Passover and common questions about Judaism.

ReligionWriters even offers this primer on how to cover topics related to spirituality and religion and several tools such as links to statistics and story ideas.  It also updates a list of links on current topics on this beat.

I like BeliefNet for background on religion, as well as for trends and current stories. If you need some background on the various holidays this week, see this Holy Week section.

A final helpful resource is Religion News Service, (RNS) , @ReligionNewsNow, with news stories about current topics and activities of the various religious bodies in the U.S.

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Mar 31

Inside Tip on How To Contact Sources Via LinkedIn

Have you ever found a good source on @LinkedIn but weren’t connected to him or her so you had to go through someone else to contact the person?  This tip is just so good I knew when I learned it that I had to share it right away.

If you don’t have a premium account (read below how to get a free one) , here’s a way around that:

  • Join groups on your beat or related to the topic you are researching. Many of them are open.
  • Go to the Groups section of LinkedIn. Click on Groups (4th from left).
  • You’ll get the Group Page and click on the members tab for a list of members.

  • Review the list or use the search box at the left (not the top right) to focus your search on a topic or expertise.
  • When you find a  potential source, mouse over the name and the background turns blue.
  • Look over to the right, you’ll see a send message link to click on.

The one downside is that if the person is not on LinkedIn regularly or does not have  email notices of LinkedIn message, he or she might not get back to you right away. Then track the person down with other online tools — whitepages.com, a search engine, company website, etc.

But now for the best tip: Join the LinkedIn for Journalists group. There you will see a posting about a monthly conference call with training about how journalists can effectively use LinkedIn. After taking the training you get a free premium account for a year which gives you the coveted, automatic “in-mail” to contact anyone directly.  Then you don’t have to use this tip!  For more, see the blog posting  from November 21.

Thanks to my former student, Kim Brown, @KimInCuse, who is now teaching me new tricks such as this one. A career services counselor at Syracuse University, Kim is a LinkedIn afficianado and trains students how to use it effectively in a job search.

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Mar 26

Get Background on Supreme Court Cases

With Supreme Court hearing the case on the new health care law this week,you might want some tips on finding material about the Court and cases.

For background on cases my favorite is SCOTUSblog.com (it stands for Supreme Court of the United States). A law firm started it about 10 years ago  and once it  nabbed well-respected former court reporter Lyle Dennison, it developed quite the following.

The site says that it reports on cases at least three times: “prior to argument; after argument; and after the decision.”  You can also find podcasts for some cases, done by lawyers arguing those cases. The site also posts some broader, themed stories.    Here is a post on how to navigate the site.

The official site for the U. S. Supreme Court offers its calendar, decisions and a way to  search for cases or topics.  You can read, though they are rare, press releases and media advisories. If you  need a factoid on the court or forgot what you learned in eighth grade civics, the about page or this tutorial for reporters about “applications” (emergency requests)  can help.

Don’t expect to go online to see the arguments live. The court doesn’t do this, and in this case, specifically refused to allow live TV or Internet feed. But you can get the audio of any argument online at the end of the week in which the case comes up (and sometimes sooner).

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Mar 20

Calendars Help You Find Stories

Finding stories is one of the hardest things about reporting — at least for me.  So I like to gather online calendars that I can check for story leads of upcoming events.

Here’s a list I use for Syracuse, N.Y:

Here's a screen shot of Zapaday for March 20.

This list might spur your thinking about what similar calendars exist in your area.  Compile them on a document with hyperlinks, or bookmark them  so you can easily peruse them when your story well is dry.

Thanks to Lifehacker  I just found Zapaday, which calls itself ” the world’s most comprehensive public calendar and news agenda, wiki-style.” You can follow its twitter feed @Zapaday. You can customize by topic.  For example you can find:

  • national holidays
  • product launches
  • religious events
  • days since X happened
  • movie releases
  • sports events

and much more. You can filter by geography but I didn’t find it helpful for my fairly small city. Be sure to check out the ‘Week Ahead’  to get a jump on a story next week.

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Mar 16

Online Resources for Stories on Gas Prices

I just drove by a station that was selling gas for $3.95 in Central New York.  And then I saw a story in the LA Times noting, “[t]he consumer price index jumped 0.4% last month from January, mostly because of energy prices…”

So many of you might be doing gas stories. Here are some helpful online resources:

  • The US Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks gas prices for unleaded regular and all grades ($3.57 and $3.62 in February, respectively.). You can do comparisons by month for the past 10 years.
  • GasBuddy is a way to find local prices. You just type in a zip code.  Tell your readers, viewers, listeners where to find the least expensive gas.
  • Similarly, Mapquest shows the lowest prices, but on a map.  I just checked and the least expensive gas in my area is, lucky me, less than a mile from my home.  I’ve never been to that station but I sure will be going!
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