Looking for great websites for data-driven business stories? Jaimi Dowdell, training director for Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), offered up a bounty of sites for business journalists to find local business stories at a Reynolds Center workshop in Atlanta on Oct. 11.
“Any time a private business interacts with the government, those are the places to find information,” Dowdell told the 24 journalists at the “Be a Better Business Watchdog – CAR for Business Journalists” workshop at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (The same free workshop will be offered Nov. 9 in Milwaukee.)
Public records can be used to uncover basic information; test government officials, procedures regulations and promises; and uncover stories no one else is doing, Dowdell said.
She also offered this caution: “Anything you find online. You need to vet it. It’s just like interviewing a person.”
Here are some other tips for getting data from a government agency:
- Request its data-retention schedule to find out what records it keeps. “It’s like walking into a restaurant and getting a menu,” she said, “but the restaurant offers public records.”
- FOIA its FOIAs. File a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking for the FOIA requests that others have filed.
- Ask for inspector general reports from federal agencies, reports from the U.S. Government Accountability Office and reports from state auditors. In a report’s methodology, it will often list data used in developing the report.
- Use advanced search on Google to specify.gov sites and .xls (Excel) format to see what databases might be available on a particular topic, such as the Gulf oil spill.
Here are sites that she recommended:
- Use Wikipedia only for the links in an entry.
- Data Finders feature from the U.S. Census.
- BRB Publications’ free public-records portal.
- Portico from the University of Virginia, especially for real estate data.
- Free public records finder.
- NICAR ‘net tour
- Reporter’s Desktop to background people: Who is John Doe?
- Power Reporting by Bill Dedman
Deep Web searches for people
- Advanced search on Facebook. If the person has no privacy settings on, you can plug in a company name and search for employees.
- Use Twitter’s advanced search to isolate tweets from a particular geography when a news event is happening, such as the shooting at the Discovery Channel building.
“Background yourself. It will help you understand how wrong things can be” on the Web, she said.
Whose website is this?
The Dead Web
- In Google search results, click on the cached link; that’s the last time Google took an image of the site.
- Wayback Machine for snapshots of websites over time.
- MINERVA – Library of Congress archives websites for major news events.
- CyberCemetery—websites of defunct government agencies.
Other useful sites
- AcademicEarth – free lectures and courses online to background yourself on a subject.
- BugMeNot — solutions for getting into password-protected sites
- Drop.io – allows sharing of large files.
- Changedetection — monitors a site for changes.
- Yahoo site explorer – lists which pages are in a website
- Help a Reporter Out:– to appeal for sources on a particular topic.
- OSHA workplace safety inspections – to search for past violations by company or industry.
- FARS – Fatality Analysis Reporting System has data on fatal accidents on U.S. highways.
- Recalls.gov — recalls for consumer products, motor vehicles, boats, food, medicine, cosmetics.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: databases and tables.
- EPA toxic releases inventory — for companies discharging toxic substances.
- Air-travel consumer report – data on chronically delayed flights, on-time statistics by airport, tarmac delays, mishandled baggage
- Airline data and statistics: — includes total baggage fees by airline.
- American FactFinder — from the U.S. Census. Use the Download Center to compare your county’s data to every other county.
- Fedstats — A-to-Z list of statistical data from the federal government. A quick link if you’re thrown into something and don’t know where to find data.
- Data.gov — Under the data tab, search the raw data catalog by keywords such as business, inspections, enforcement.
- Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data – Shows mortgage-approval rates by socioeconomic data, plus subprime spread on mortgages.
- Nonprofits – IRE offers data from the Internal Revenue Service that lists nonprofits by geography.
- Usaspending.gov – Search for contracts by company or university.
- Get story ideas from Extra! Extra! on IRE.org.
Here’s a PDF of Dowdell’s handout from the workshop entitled, CAR for Business Journalists.