Jul 07

Five More Tips from #IRE

Here are five more tips from the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference:

  • In a breaking news situation, use life360.com to keep track of where all your reporters are and to keep them organized. Designed for families, but who says newsrooms aren’t a family?
  • If you need a dictation transcription, check out Dragon Dictation app.
  • Censusreporter.org is so much easier to use that the Census’ own Website for demographic information. Try it.
  • While there is no easy way to track cell phones, spydialer.com is worth a try.
  • When backgrounding people, try the search engine, Blekko.com, which pulls up content others don’t.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Jun 30

Top Tips From #IRE14

One of the best conferences each year is at the 2014 IRE Annual Conference. Here are five great tips I picked up last week:

  • 1. If you need to search Instagram, try iconosquare.com
  • 2. Trying to check family relationships from documents? Look for online obituaries which often have them
  • 3. If you’ve used Guidestar to find 990s (non profit reports to IRS), then also try Citizen Audit, which has a search function
  • 4.  In July you can track what candidates and others are spending to buy time for federal elections on politicaladsleuth.com.  It will cover every TV station in the country.
  • 5. Need to scan a document for publication? Use CamScanner app, which also gives you options for editing and cleaning up a document.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Jun 24

It’s No Longer Hard to Email A Congressmember

gillibrand_websiteI didn’t know that it wasn’t easy to email members of Congress directly or that most members don’t publish an email address. You have to go to their websites and fill out a form. Apparently one of the reasons is that they fear spam or mass emails from people outside their districts.

At the left,  here is the website form someone in Central New York must use to communicate with U.S. Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand.  It would be so much easier to keep her email in a contacts list and email directly from there.

Now the Sunlight Foundation has developed an easy way for citizens to email their representatives or senators, at its website, Open Congress. They search for their Congressmember and the email appears on the first page. I’ve circled it here: opencongress_Gillibrand_email

And even if, as a reporter, you generally go through the public relations staffers, you might want to let your readers, viewers and listeners  know of this easy way to let their voices be heard.  It’s quick!

One limitation that Tom Lee, director of Sunlight Labs,  notes,  “For now, our system will only let you email your own representatives. A lot of people dislike this. We do, too. In an age of increasing polarization, party discipline means that congressional leaders must be accountable to citizens outside their districts. But the unfortunate truth is that Congress typically won’t bother reading messages from non-constituents — that’s why those zip code requirements exist in the first place. Until that changes, we don’t want our users to waste their time.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Jun 20

Writing a FOIA Letter is Easy

I’m about to head to Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference next week and remembered that last year I vowed I would write several FOIA letters, both to see what databases I could get, plus to model good practice for students.splc_logo_new

Eeks, it’s nearly a year and I haven’t done one. So I at least did one this week. I will be teaching arts journalists about how to get financial information and so I sent a FOIA letter to a state arts commission to get its budget and audit. My initial research showed the commission has been under some controversy lately.

I couldn’t believe how easy it was and how little time it took. I had a letter done in less that five minutes, thanks to the easy letter generator at the Student Press Law Center.  You just fill in the blanks and it spits out the letter. I did a few touch ups and sent it right out. I couldn’t believe how easy and fast it was.

logo_IfoiaSo don’t hesitate if you think it’s going to take a long time or you don’t know what to write. You can also find a letter generator for a federal agency at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press   site,  IFOIA (requires registration).

Posted in Backgrounding for News Stories | Leave a comment
Jun 11

Needs Stats on Occupations or Job Salaries?

I did a double-take at the info from Kate Martin, government reporter at the  Tacoma News Tribune.  There’s almost five public relations specialists for every reporter, she noted in a posting on the website for Investigative Reporters and Editors.

It’s actually 4.6 to 1!  I’m going to be telling this statistic to my students in the fall when we talk about being assertive, digging deep and asking tough questions.

And modeling good journalistic practice, I emailed Kate for the source. She quickly replied that it’s from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This report, issued, interestingly on April Fool’s Day,  lists all occupations and the number of persons employed, the average hourly and annual wages and the median hourly pay. Here’s the comparison.  (ahem, the annual average salary is column 3!)


This is a handy reference for all occupations. Some of these statistics might be a good nugget to tuck into a story.  Shortage of nurses in your area — compare it to other professions that pay about the same.

Need a topic for some morning show banter or a talk segment?  Get your co-anchor to guess the average wage for three jobs.  Or talk about why the average nonfarm animal caretaker ($22,510) makes more than a child-care worker ($21,490).  See #4 in this Wall Street Journal blog. Make a trivia online poll to get readers involved.

Let me know of other helpful stat sites that have made your reporting better.


Posted in Backgrounding for News Stories, Databases | Leave a comment
Jun 03

Killer App for Searching the Web is MindMeld

So how great would it be if you would just talk about what you need to know and immediately your hand-held device would interpret what you say and send you relevant information about places, subjects and facts that you’re talking about.  Forget typing in Google – this would be virtual, immediate search. Almost like mind-reading.

Forget the imagining, it’s here.

logo-mindmeldI heard about MindMeld from tech guru Amy Webb at a conference last fall. It finally came out a few months ago and I have given it a try. It is pretty amazing. Not perfect yet, but I’m sure, like all tech, it’s only going to get better.

I clicked the button on the IPad app and said key words, “Syracuse, “homicides” “2014.” Immediately I got news articles about homicides in my city.  Not all were 2014 but I did find some helpful information.

Then I tried a more personal search,  “what to do in Banff and Lake Louise,” since I’m headed there next month.  However it thought I was saying “Dan in Canada” and “Dampg Bmm FF” and advised me to use a microphone!  But one of the 10 keywords that popped up is Lake Louise, Canada, and when I clicked on it I got the local tourism site, 2 hotel sites and information on the national park there:


Screenshot from my search on MindMeld

MindMeld is available for Iphone, Droid and IPad.  It’s from Expect Labs.

This is going to be the new way we search.  It’s called “anticipatory computing” and is a type of new genre of virtual personal assistants.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

Posted in Finding Sources, Finding Stories, Searching | Leave a comment
May 29

Foursquare Splits in Two. Less Helpful for Sources.

I loved the technique I discovered of how journalists could find a good source for a story that related to a particular location.  The person who checked in at a venue the most — and thus might be a good source — was the mayor on Foursquare. Here’s the lowdown on that from a post  a few years ago. 

Swarm-FoursquareNow comes news that Foursquare itself is becoming more of a local search or venue review site and is spinning off the check-in-find-my-friends function to a new app, Swarm.  While Swarm still uses the mayor concept, it gives you  a mayor,  but only among your friends (the one who has checked in at a venue the most). And a venue can have many mayors among all the friend groupings. So it won’t work for finding the best source at a certain venue as the old Foursquare did.

Foursquare is being updated this summer. Until we know how that works, the best tip I can give reporters now for Foursquare — since it has become a local search  site with reviews and tips from others — is to check those tips and you might find a story idea. One I found once was how to get less expensive parking at the local hospital.


Posted in Finding Stories, Searching | Leave a comment
May 22

Symbaloo Offers A Webpage of Bookmarks

I’m in a week of training on better ways to teach with technology and one of the cool tools I’ve learned is Symbaloo.  If you’re like me you run out of bookmark tabs on your browser and it’s a hassle to copy them from browser to browser or computer to computer.  So here is a visual webpage that you can make your homepage and use it for quick links to as many as 100 bookmarks:

Here’s the first draft of my tab which includes news sites.  I’ve put them in columns by topics.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 3.33.23 PM

So all I have to do is click on the icon and I go directly to that news site. You can have several tabs of these grids.  There’s also an app for your mobile device.

It took me a couple hours to put it all together. While it recognizes some websites and provides logos, I ended up searching for a lot of them to input here.  And as you can tell I made the quick-and-dirty column headers. But I think it will be a great time-saver in the end.

What if you did one that everyone in your newsroom could use? You can embed it on a website — another great feature.

Posted in Searching | Leave a comment
May 09

Ways to Search for Journalism Jobs Online — for Free

It’s graduation season, which means a lot of job-hunting is going on. Of course those looking for their first journalism job are on the market, but so may be those who got their first job a year or two ago and are now ready to move on.  So there’s a lot of fluidity in jobs soon to come.

So if you’re looking, here are seven free job sites to check out:

  1. All Access  for radio jobs
  2. Broadcast Image Group searches for talent for client stations; free for job-seekers in on air, producing or management
  3. B&C, the trade journal, Broadcasting and Cable
  4. JournalismJobs.com  covers a multitude of communications jobs; click on tabs for specialties
  5. Mashable  primarily covers digital but includes  all journalism, advertising, IT and marketing
  6. MediaBistro includes a wide variety of professions;  search by tab/industry
  7. RTDNA includes primarily radio and TV jobs

All of those above are free. Of course, many paid services abound such as TVJobs.com, MediaLine and NewsBlues. Professional organizations such as SPJ and ONA offer job services accessible only to members.

If you know of another helpful free job listing for journalism jobs, please let readyreporter know: readyrep@syr.edu or leave a comment below.

Posted in Searching | Leave a comment
Apr 30

Get Inspired: Storytellers Showcases Stories and Tips

logo_storytellersIt’s going to rain all week where I live in Syracuse:  Spring blahs with summer not quite here. It’s a  time for inspiration and we all need inspiration in our work.

I found it at the TV Storytellers facebook page and website.  Here is a community of good storytellers sharing their work and some of the best in the business giving comments back. I love the attitude with open, frank questions about “here’s the situation….did it work.”

You can learn about ways to enhance low video stories, revel in the creative turn-of-phrase of some great wordsmiths and borrow ideas to strengthen your reporting. It offers a tip of the week, a story of the week and discussion groups.

ss_tvnstorytellers_heading Matt Mrozinski (now at WTHR, Indianapolis) started this as an in-house facebook group to build up the storytelling at his station and it morphed into an open group nationwide. with archives courtesy of Amanda Emily.  The site says more than 5000 members read it.

Also follow @TVNStorytellers.  Follow, read on facebook or on the website.

And a hat tip to KerenHenderson for reminding me of this site.


Posted in Finding Stories | Leave a comment