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Investigative reporting: Resources and reading

investigative reading

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The resources, online and otherwise, for investigative business reporting are as vast and varied as the topics that a reporter pursues.  Below are a number that could be useful over a range of different kinds of investigations.

Websites:

  • U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission:  The main webpage for the SEC, contains lots of information on securities laws and regulations as well as enforcement cases brought by the agency.  Within this website is the EDGAR database, which contains the filings of thousands of publicly-traded companies.   EDGAR can be keyword searched for free going back four years.  Here’s additional guidance on how to search.
  • Part of the website of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a securities industry self-policing organization, allows you to look up brokerage firms and brokers to see what, if any, regulatory problems they’ve had.
  • SEC Investment Adviser Search: This search will help you find broker and brokerage firm information.
  • Footnoted: A website that tracks SEC filings and highlights buried nuggets of corporate news.
  • SEDAR: This site is similar to the SEC Edgar database of filings, except  for Canadian public companies.
  • Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER): This website, provided by the federal judiciary, does cost money but it’s an incredible bargain.  After setting up an account, you can pull down and read tens of thousands of civil, criminal, bankruptcy and appellate court filings for just 8 cents a page, with a $2.40 per document maximum charge.  You can either search in a particular federal court or do a nationwide search of all federal courts.
  • Administrative Office of U.S. Courts: This site includes lots of information on caseloads in federal courts around the country.
  • Fedspending.org:  An online guide to where tens of billions of federal dollars have been spent.
  • TRACfed: A database, much of it gleaned from FOIA requests, which has information on federal government employees and the activities of federal agencies.
  • OpenSecrets.org:  A source for information on political contributions and lobbying activity at the federal level.
  • FollowtheMoney.org: A guide to political contributions in state elections.
  • Pipl, Who is John Doe – and where to get the paper on him, AnyWho, SwitchboardFour, among many, websites for finding U.S. people, addresses, phone numbers and other relevant information.
  • Infobel: An international people-finding directory.
  • United States Attorney’s Offices Contact Information: Department of Justice site with links to all the websites of U.S. Attorneys offices in the county.
  • Foreign Agents Registration Unit: Government website for finding information on registered foreign agents.
  • Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE): The homepage for Investigative Reporters and Editors, a journalism group that for over 35 years has been encouraging and providing helpful guidance on investigative reporting.
  • Wayback Machine: This website allows you to view past versions of websites.  Can be useful in seeing what information a company or entity used to have on its website – and possibly removed in hopes that nobody would find it.
  • Guidestar: Place to get the tax returns  (known as Form 990) for non-profit organizations.   Such reports can be useful for obtaining information about non-profit’s finances and officials.
  • FlightAware: Website for tracking airplane flights.  Can be useful if you are trying to find out where a corporate jet has been going—as long as you have the plane’s tail number.
  • CAL-FOI archiveA website with guidance on filing FOIA requests and seeking out publicly available data.

Recommended reading:

  • Investigative Reporter’s Handbook: A guide from the folks at Investigative Reporters and Editors.
  • Business Background Investigations:  Another how-to guide.  Also available at IRE.
  • “All the President’s Men:” This classic tale of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s efforts to uncover the Watergate scandal is worth reading every so often, if only to be inspired by what reporting can do.

About the Author

John R. Emshwiller, a senior national correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, has spent most of the past decade covering white-collar crime and related issues. He is the author of "Scam Dogs & Mo-Mo Mamas" and "24 Days." Emshwiller has won multiple journalism awards, including the 2002 Gerald Loeb Award for his coverage of Enron.

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