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Two Minute Tips

Investigative journalist Michael W. Hudson’s reporting tips

September 29, 2011

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Michael W. Hudson

Michael W. Hudson spoke about the mortgage meltdown as a Reynolds Visiting Professional at Washington and Lee University on Nov. 8, 2010.

Michael W. Hudson of the Center for Public Integrity has become the guru of all things predatory lending. His latest story about Countrywide Financial Corp.’s silencing of whistleblowers for exposing document forgery and shredding clearly shows the amount of work he’s invested in learning about this topic and gathering sources.

His Countrywide story starts with specific details about how Boston-area locations had falsified mortgage documents. For instance:

“Branch employees had used scissors, tape and Wite-Out to create fake bank statements, inflated property appraisals and other phony paperwork….Workers had, as a matter of routine, literally cut and pasted the address for one home onto an appraisal for a completely different piece of property.”

Mike has been looking into predatory lending and poverty issues for almost 20 years. He’s even written a book, “THE MONSTER: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America—and Spawned a Global Crisis.” (You can get more details in this CJR interview.) I asked him if there was hope for those of us who don’t have his history and experience to write these stories. His answer? “Yes.”

Today’s Tip: “You can make yourself a journalistic expert on just about any subject in two to five months, if you’ve willing to work hard and work smart,” Mike says.

  • Step One: Don’t be intimidated. “Don’t think that beat reporters or company officials or agency administrators are all-knowing,” he says.
  • Step Two: Read everything you can find on a subject or company or market or agency. He suggests joining Investigative Reporters and Editors to search its archive for previous stories about your topic.
  • Step Three: Find the experts and then talk to them.

They don’t have to be the academics or stock analysts who get interviewed on CNBC all the time, Mike says. They could be leaders of small activist groups or think tanks, or even  people who’ve had problems with a particular company or government agency and now they spend their time running a website or Twitter feed that tracks its problems and failings, he says.

“Sometimes the best experts are folks with an obsessive concern about a subject,” he says. “Don’t take everything they say as gospel – their anger or obsessiveness may skew their observations -– but do talk to them and take advantage of all the information and leads and contacts they’ve vacuumed up.”


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