Nov 26

Website To Get Background on Controversial Issues

I have to credit National Public Radio for tipping me off to a website that I didn’t know about and should have.  It’s been around 10 years. So I want to make share it with you.

A sample of some of the topics you'll find on the site.

A sample of some of the topics you’ll find on the site.  includes various sides of controversial issues. It says it provides “free, unbiased, and sourced information so people can better understand important social issues and make more informed decisions about them.”

Dozens of well-recognize media have used it.

I’m also impressed with its transparency about who it is and its financial statements.  It includes various sides of controversial issues.


Sounds like this would be helpful for journalists in several ways:

  • to make sure we understand all aspects of a topic before reporting on it
  • to prep for interviews with persons who advocate one side or the other
  • to check any hidden biases or influences we might have

The site boasts facts on more than 50 issues. See the graphic above with a list of some of them.

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Nov 07

Help For Students (and Professionals) on the Job Hunt

I just talked with a student who is being graduated in December about how to look for jobs. So it’s that time again.

Earlier I posted a list of six free job sites for those interested in jobs in radio, TV or online. This post is about how to use one valuable resource in researching before your phone interview or on-site visit.

Borrow from the expertise of the  advertising world and use a database, Kantor Media SRDS, that advertisers use to research a market.

See if your university or nearby public library has a subscription. Much of the information there — media,  affiliations, market size, competition, demographics — can also help you prepare for an interview at that media outlet. You can find information on TV stations, radio station, group owners, consumer magazines and newspapers.

Here’s a couple jump starts with the database:

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 4.04.24 PMAnd to get a map of the area, i.e. so you can pitch stories for the region, or have an understanding of the reach of that news product:  Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 4.04.40 PMSRDS can be a valuable tool. Let me know if it helps you in your research related to your next job.

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Oct 17

Where Do Most Muslims Live?

crescent-200After 9/11 I got involved in an interfaith women’s group and met, for the first time, some Muslim women. I’m pleased to say several have become friends. I’ve learned a lot from them. One thing is about where Muslims live.

I presumed most Muslims lived in the Middle East. Not so. In fact, here are the top three countries for Muslim population:

  • Indonesia, 209 million
  • India, 176 million
  • Pakistan, 167 million

It’s important for reporters to have good information at their fingertips — this comes from Pew Research. It’s also important to understand cultural differences and not write from misperceptions.  Spend 10 minutes at this site from Pew and you’ll surely learn something about the religious mosaic across the globe.



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Sep 26

Quick Trick to Find Candidate’s Supporters

FECIt’s political season. Perhaps you want to find a good source who is supporting Candidate X.  You want something better than person-on-the-street interviews.

One underused source for who is supporting a certain candidate is your state or federal elections website. Most all the sites allow you to narrow your search by zip code or location.

Here are links:

If someone has given money, s/he probably has something to say about this candidate.

Some of the sites list donor addresses. If not, the name in And if you have the address and need a phone number, check reverse directory by clicking on “address.”   Remember, these online phone books only include listed landlines, not mobiles.


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Sep 11

Apps Journalists Need: Federal Government

You’re out in the field and you need some quick information about the federal government. Don’t hop on Google.  You can go right to many federal agencies directly. No need to page through that long Google list nor risk getting a bogus source. If  you’ve set up a folder on your smartphone with federal agency apps, you go straight there.

Here’s the fed’s mobile app site with a host of federal agency apps. You can search:

Take 20 minutes today to download apps from the main agencies that will have information you might need.  Play around.  This is the way to get that extra fact or nugget that the competition doesn’t have.

For example, one that every reporter should have is the FAA app from which you can look up plane tail numbers (essential when a plane crashes), and track airport delays.

Also – how about  paging through some of these agency apps to see what’s there. I bet you’ll find story ideas for the future.



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Aug 27

School Bell Calling? Go Back to School with BBC

It’s about time for students to be going back to school.  And maybe you are thinking fondly about that.

Are you ready for some new learning as well? Now’s a good time to add to your skills and refresh yourself.    The BBC has just opened up its academy — long available only to insiders.  It’s a one year experiment — no paywall. We Yanks can get it for free.

Here’s a sample of some of the topics:

Take a look and see what you can learn from the Brits.

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Aug 11

Check What Corporations Get Government Subsidies

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 8.55.25 PMI continue to be amazed at the online resources that I didn’t know about. I just learned about a website that allows you to look at what corporate tax breaks and subsidies are handed out by city and county governments. It’s done to promote economic development.

The website is Subsidy Tracker and it is run by Good Jobs First, a DC non-profit that studies government accountability.

Since I just visited Oakland County, a well-to-do county north of Detroit, I plugged that name into the Tracker. Here are the first listings I found.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 8.48.44 PM

No surprise that General Motors comes up first.  If you click on the underlined type then you will find details. Here’s the additional information on the second listing, which expanded its business:

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 8.51.15 PM

Check out your city or county. Might find some interesting stories in the data. Or at least you have it as a reference for the next time you do a business or economic development story.

Posted in Databases, Finding Stories, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Aug 01

Learn Your Market By Reviewing Census Stats

It’s the time of year when there’s some movement on the broadcast side of the business.  This is the time of year when college graduates get jobs and thus contracts are up, two years later.

censusreporterIf you’re new to a community, or if you’re staying put but haven’t looked at the demographics of your market lately, check out  I find it’s much simpler and easier to use than the Census’ own website. (Thanks to Knight Foundation for funding .

Story ideas may jump out at you by just perusing the site. For example, look at this comparison between the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County for housing ownership.


Since most people in the city rent (60%) those viewers are more interested in stories about tenant rights or first-purchase housing programs. And you might pitch how-tos on home fix-its or stories about mortgage rates to suburbanites, most of whom own their homes (65%).

Other quick story leads might be  commute times from various locations or the changing demographics as to race.

With the concern about medical care for vets, did you know that you can find out how many veterans live in your area?

One caution – – remember the most recent figures come from the American Community Survey, ACS, which surveys a statistically significant part of the population each year. But don’t compare those ACS stats to the decennial numbers. And best bet, say Census staff, is to use the 3-year or 5-year ACS stats as they are more accurate than the one-year numbers.



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Jul 23

People Finders: Backgrounding People

At #IRE14 I picked up some great tips for how to background people, or confirm they are who they say they are (or whom you think they are).  Here are 5 good ones:

LICENSING: Many professions are licensed. BRB Publications links to all state sites.  Also check this master site, CLEAR, the Council on Licensing, Enforcement and Regulation of links to state licensing records and more. For example, I used CLEAR to get to the New York State site and found this record for my dentist:


Just look at the list of all the professions licensed — from aestheticians to fuel technicians to roofers.

GOVERMENT EMPLOYEES: Margot Williams, now with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. ICIJ, recommended which offers links to government employees. Here you can find federal employees, some salary information and links to many state employee databases.  A real find!

DEEP WEB: Pipl is a website I gave up on because I didn’t find it had much original information and I got frustrated with all the links for paid sites. But two panelists at IRE recommended it, and it only takes a few moments to check.

OBITS: And the other great tip I got at IRE was to use newspaper databases to pull up obituaries to find out relationships between people.  Is this really her daughter — it’s generally all listed out right there in the obituary.

PRISONS:  If you’re tracking someone involved in crime, check the federal Bureau of Prisons inmate locator or see if you can find a similar directory for the state.

Let me now your other tips for backgrounding people.

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Jul 15

Get Ready To Cover Politics and Ad Spending

We have a highly contested Congressional seat here in New York’s 24th District and pundits are predicting the ad spending might top the record $9 million spent two years ago.  You can trace some of this TV spending.  Here is one helpful new website that I learned about at #IRE14 .

While the FCC has always required TV stations to allow the public to inspect paper copies of political ad buys at the station itself, in recent years only top 50 market stations had to file them electronically with the FCC.  Now, as of July 1, they all have to.  As someone who has pulled the paper files to review at stations, this is so much easier! 

politicaladsleuth_logoThe Sunlight Foundation is scraping the FCC website and posting all the contracts, searchable by buyer, station and market on its Political Ad Sleuth website. At the end of this post, I inserted an example of a contract for an ad buy from the incumbent in the 24th Congressional race. These ads won’t run until late October, but his campaign placed them already in early May.

Check out who has already bought time in your market. Then you can do some predictions now as to who will be spending what, as well as how much viewers are going to be deluged in the weeks leading up to the election. Check out who has already bought time in your market.

Sometimes you have to do a little digging to find out who is behind an entity or for whom it is advertising.



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