Aug 06

Rating The Expert Finders

expertisefounder_logoAfter seeing a Poynter article about a new expert service for journalists, Expertise Finder, I thought I’d put it through some paces. The site sounded great.  A former Canadian TV journalist, frustrated with trying to find experts on deadline, helped develop this new service. Good goals. Really nice interface. But it’s not among my top recommendations. Here’s why.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.47.57 PMSince today is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima I thought I’d look for someone who has expertise on that topic.  I put in “Hiroshima”, then “nuclear bomb” then “radiation fallout.”  I didn’t come up with any experts.  “Japanese history”, however, did turn up 28.

Expertise Finder says it has 20,000 academic experts,  but the one list I could find quickly only included about 20 universities, and only a handful in the U.S.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.53.54 PMI still recommend the master list of experts compiled by journalist Julian Sher at JournalismNet. Picking at random just three sites off his list of expert services, here’s what I found in a few minutes of testing the same searches.

  • AllExperts gave me 16 experts in less time than it took for my three searches on Expertise Finder.  Only downside is this site wants you to email the expert on its platform. Sometimes reporters don’t get prompt answers that way.
  • Expert Click was no better than Expertise Finder
  • Profnet Expert Connection returned two good names, one, coincidentally, in my area.  It also wants you to email the person on its platform but I could easily find phone numbers and emails for these profs.

This was just one topic. And, granted,  this was only a 15-minute test. But that’s about the time a producer or reporter would have to find a good contact.  Expertise Finder may grow into a more helpful tool, but for now I’d use Profnet or other sites off the JournalismNet site.

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Jul 28

Public Records Requests Lead Reporters To Good Stories

Amanda St. Hilaire, ABC27, Harrisburg, Penn.

Amanda St. Hilaire, ABC27, Harrisburg, Penn.

WHTM-TV’s Amanda St. Hilaire says her trick for finding good stories is to file public records requests every week.  A general assignment reporter,  3.5  years out of college and at her second station, St. Hilaire says these requests net a bounty of documents and hidden stories no one else in her newsroom or across town has found.

Public record requests are not just the province of investigative reporters, she adds, urging other general assignment reporters to do so.

In this story from June, Amanda showed viewers how the tuition costs at state-owned Pennsylvania universities nearly doubled in 10 years, far above the rate of inflation.

The story started when Amanda read about an Auditor General’s combined report on all 14 universities. She filed a request and got the administrative payroll for non-union employees, in both electronic and paper form.  Although it took many hours to go through all the paperwork, she says, she found that to be the best way to get the big picture.

abc7_harrisburg_logoAmanda credits her managers for knowing that it takes time to do such stories. They gave her two days away from daily reporting to muddle through the documents, and she  spent  more hours of her own time on them.   But this story, and two followups that she also pulled from the data, got high viewer reaction and engagement, she says.

“My email blew up from parents who were outraged that tuition gets raised every year and that people are getting these big raises,” she said.

Her tips for making public record requests:

  • “Request just for the heck of it,” she says. “Even though it is a time investment, if it has to do with numbers, it likely will be a good request.”
  • Keep your requests in simple language so that the person who has to respond understands what you want. She uses a form from the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.
  • Be specific in what you want.
  • Ask for records over a five-year period so you can see the trends. “There could have just been a freak year,” she says.
  • Do the math twice. Then have someone else check it.
  • Explain to viewers the process you went through to get the story. “If you put that much time and energy into something, show your viewers that.”

If you’ve not done public records requests, it’s not hard. See this ReadyReporter blog post for online websites that write the letter for you. And if you need a contact in your state about access to documents or meetings, check out this state-by-state list from the National FOI Coalition.

Note: Amanda explains that the biggies in higher ed, Penn State, Temple and Pitt, are technically not state institutions, just state-related, so they are not covered by the public records law.

Posted in Databases, Finding Stories | Leave a comment
Jul 21

Reporter’s Legal Guide Available at Your Fingertips

You’re out reporting on a story and you encounter a situation in which you’re unsure about whether you can record due to privacy laws. Or you wonder if you can record police arresting someone since you’ve heard some of the recent incidents where police stopped reporters or threatened them with arrest.

Maybe you don’t remember much from your law class. Don’t tell me if I was your professor!  Perhaps you can’t get a hold of a manager at the station.  A legal guide can be at your fingertips for free. Just download the Recording Rights app from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

rcfp_app_recordingThis recording guide has sections on trespass, consent, hidden cameras, police arrests and more. It’s simple to thumb through. It has general principles and you should know your state’s law, but this is a good primer.

Take a few moments to review it to refresh what you know and then you have it on your phone for future reference. I know it’s summer, but let’s call this summer school.

RFFP also has other apps available on covering schools, cops and courts and a general “first aid” app. More on those later.


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Jul 14

Wayback Machine Helps Reporters Sleuth Out Information

Last week when federal authorities raided the Indianapolis-area home of Jared Fogle, WFYI-FM’s reporter Ryan Delaney immediately scrambled to get reaction.

Fogel, the spokesperson for Subway, gained fame for losing more than 200 pounds by eating the chain’s low-fat sandwiches. While Ryan knew officials hadn’t charged Fogle with anything, a few months earlier they arrested the executive director of Fogel’s foundation on child pornography charges.

waybackmachinelogoSo Fyanset out to talk to someone at the foundation, whose work focuses on awareness of  childhood obesity. He went first to the foundation website to get contact information, but it was down. So he navigated to the Internet Archive, commonly known as the Wayback Machine, which catalogs billions of webpages.

Even though no one answered at the foundation, Ryan told readers in his story that he had tried:Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 11.39.33 AMWhile this Internet search trick didn’t net much for this story, Ryansaid he has used it before with success. When he was reporting on a New York attorney general’s

WFYI's Ryan Delaney

WFYI’s Ryan Delaney

investigation into ties between a medical management company and a state-owned hospital in Syracuse, he used Wayback Machine to find snapshots of archived web pages of the hospital.  They included bios of several  hospital employees that noted they worked for the medical management company. That information was scrubbed from their bios on the current website.

So Wayback Machine can be a helpful tool for reporters who want to see what content on a previous version of a website. For more information on the Wayback Machine (note that it is slow to load), see this previous post.

Posted in Backgrounding for News Stories, Finding Sources | Leave a comment
Jul 07

Pitch Stories on Renting Since Fewer People Own Homes

Since my parents owned a home and I own a home,  I probably have a bias that most people own their home. I think a lot of news coverage shows that bias, as well.  I’m continually surprised, when I teach students how to use Census data, at the varying home ownership rates across the country.

Graph from Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

Graph from Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

It’s now about 63 percent and it’s falling rapidly, among all age groups.  That means more of your readers/viewers/listeners are renting. A new study  by The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University (JCHS) underscores that point that people are increasingly renting.

I don’t see too many stories that would help renters, so here are some websites to help you pitch trend, tip or  how-to stories:

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Jul 01

Google’s Research Guru Dan Russell Offers Weekly Tips That Can Make You A Better Searcher

note: after 6 months, ReadyReporter is back and ready to give you more tips for quicker, better, smarter reporting.

One of the most popular seminars at the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference each year is the one led by Goggle’s senior research scientist Dan Russell.  It’s usually standing-room only.  His Google+ posts have more than eight million views. One of his jobs is to give his staff hard research questions and dare them to find the answers. So he tries those questions out on a roomful of investigative reporters!

Last year at IRE he stretched my mind til it snapped, showing one picture of a city skyline and asking “where am I?”  And then he explained how we could have figured that out by taking a logo off a building in the foreground, looking at the surroundings,  and then mashing together many pieces of data, all searchable online, of course, via Google. Once you find that building and city, then a mapping program would show you the nearby hotel room from which he took the shot. He even showed us how to figure out the phone number in one of the buildings!

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 4.46.58 PMHere’s the tip for today — if you want to learn more about online searching from one of the best, check out his weekly blog, SearchReSearch.  He poses a research question every Wednesday, and then shows you how to find the information, step-by-step. Just reading the blog will give you an education in searching.  This week’s post is about sharks, a timely topic with the news about shark attacks in North Carolina.

If you’d like to follow him, he tweets at @dmrussell, where he also posts his weekly search quiz.  And you can take a free online course from him.

Extra bonus: this is the tip guide he gave at the IRE Conference, “How To Become an Instant Expert Using Google.”

Posted in Databases, Searching, Uncategorized, Verifying Information | Leave a comment
Jan 05

RR on Temporary Hiatus

I’m doing some TV work for the next six weeks — hosting a public affairs show–on top of my teaching schedule. And so I’m taking a break from Ready Reporter.  But I’ll be back.


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Dec 30

Best Tips of the Year for Journalists

In case you missed them here are some of the top tips from the year to help make you a better journalist:

  1. Tips from investigative reporters on how to find people online or in databases.
  2. An amazing new way of searching — just speak words into the Mind Meld app and it will pull up relevant articles. Great for hands-free and on-the-go.
  3. Tips on verifying video and photos – -are they for real?
  4. Symbaloo, a website with tiles for all your favorite web links. It beats bookmarks and is available to you on multiple platforms and computers. Put all your favorite links here once and you’ll have them ready anytime.
  5. Watch stories from some of the best storytellers in the country — and get ideas for bettering your pieces in the New Year.
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Dec 17

Google Brings Back Its Free News Archive

I’m giving a big shout-out to Barry Swartz at Search Engine Land for the tip that we can again search Google News for stories from the past. This option has been gone for more than three years.

So all you reporters and producers who have had trouble doing research because your news organization doesn’t pay for a database and you can’t access one electronically via your local library — this is a Christmas/Hanukkah present for you.

You can search the Google News archive back through 2003. This can help you confirm facts, check details and do other research.

Here’s how to find it, because it’s not real intuitive:

  • Put a search term in the Google search box
  • Click on “News” (under the search bar in red)
  • Click on “Search tools” to the right of News
  • Use se the pull down menu “Recent” to find “Archives”

Here’s a visual representation:


I just tried it with this search: Cuba and diplomacy  and found 57 pages of stories including some in 2006.

Thanks, Google!

Posted in Backgrounding for News Stories, Databases | Leave a comment
Dec 10

Find Surplus Military Equipment Given to Local Police

I commend the Syracuse Media Group and reporter Michelle Breidenbach for scouring the Defense Logistics Agency to find out about the cast-off armored vehicles that the feds gave to our local police.  In a series of stories she reported that our city of about 140,000 people is fourth in the state for taking such surplus from the military.

PS_suplusdatabaseAbout 15 months ago the Syracuse police got a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle like the ones used in Iraq. Thankfully, the police have yet to use the $600,000 tank. About a year ago it got a second armored vehicle, a copy of one that the county sheriff already has. You might guess that some citizens say we don’t need all that — give it back.

If you’re interested in seeing what local law enforcement in your area has received,  the Syracuse Media Group put together an easy searchable database (see left) for all states. Check out what has been given to your state.

Two story tie-ins this week:

  • protests about the militarization of police
  • the season of gift-giving.

Tell your readers, viewers and listeners what military surplus gifts have come their way. I bet they don’t know!


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