Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

Free tools and resources for investigative reporters

July 5, 2017

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There's a huge collection of free tools can help investigative journalists with everything from prison records to SEC filings. (Image by "blickpixel" via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)
There's a huge collection of free tools can help investigative journalists with everything from prison records to SEC filings. (Image by "blickpixel" via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)

It can take a reporter years to develop a go-to library of tools and resources that help filter useful databases, specialized websites and stockpiles of public records. Fortunately, a number of organizations and individual journalists have compiled treasuries of excellent sources that are yours to make use of.

Six curated resources that don’t cost a dime

The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reporters Tools page links to several valuable resources including the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Journalist Security Guide. Another useful asset: the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER), which gives reporters entree to federal appellate, district and bankruptcy court records.

At the 2015  Global Investigative Journalism Conference, Gary Price, editor of InfoDOCKET, and Margot Williams, research editor for investigations at The Intercept, shared their Top 100 Research Tools. The speakers then boiled their thoughts down to their top 10 research tools for investigative journalists, found in this excellent recap. The GIJN website has its own list of tips and techniques.

The Investigative Reporters and Editors website has a free page devoted to Freedom of Information resources. Among the riches, you’ll find links to a tool that will generate FOI requests, the National Security Archive and tip-sheets for dealing with road-blocks.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has compiled a tight repository of under-the-radar sources. They’ll help a reporter track down a person in the U.S. prison system, search the finances of charities and get a background profile using public records on Lexis.

Among the hundreds of links on Mike Reilley’s “Journalist’s Toolbox” are hands-on tools for resizing photos and audio editing, plus databases for everything from public employee salaries to an exhaustive list of weather-related websites and articles, helpful for reporting on topics from drought to states spending on flood damage.

This link on Writers and Editors lists organizations and associations that strive to aid investigative journalists. Among the most helpful content are individual articles and PDFs created by veteran journalists, including a guide to guarding your online privacy and a savvy starter kit for SEC filings.

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