Resources for Your Next Investigative Reporting Project

June 1, 2021

The following is an excerpt from a Beat Basics Update by Rob Wells on investigative business reporting. You can read the entire update to the ebook here.

There are vast resources for investigative business reporting online and in print.  Below is list of some essential resources.

Edgar – Public Company Data

This site hosted by the  U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission allows you to find detailed financial and company data on public companies. EDGAR can be searched by keyword for free going back four years. To get into the weeds, use the numerous Edgar headers to search down to the zip code, filing and industry type using the Boolean search engine.

Footnoted

A website that tracks SEC filings and highlights buried nuggets of corporate news.

SEC Action Lookup

This site allows you to find enforcement cases against individuals. Test it out: type in “Holmes”

SEC Investment Adviser Search

This search will help you find broker and brokerage firm information.

BrokerCheck

See if a stock broker or Wall Street firm has been slapped with a regulatory penalty or fine. Data is collected by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA, a securities industry self-policing organization.

North American Securities Administrators Association

A portal for securities regulators for all 50 states. Some state regulators are quite aggressive and unearth frauds well ahead of the SEC. Worth making contact with your state’s regulator.

EMMA – Municipal Bonds

Learn the financial details, background and major players behind sports stadiums, sewer projects, or hospitals financed by municipal bonds. Site is hosted by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, an industry self-regulatory organization created by Congress. Overview is here.

National Association of Insurance Commissioners

Find your state’s insurance regulator and learn how about their enforcement activities.

SEDAR

This site of the Canadian Securities Administrators allows you to research Canadian public companies.

Federal Audit Clearinghouse

A database of audits of local, state governments and nonprofits – any group that takes in more than $750,000 a year in federal money. Reports stretch back to 1997.

Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER)

This is the go-to website for federal court filings. It charges a small fee, but it allows you to read tens of thousands of civil, criminal, bankruptcy and appellate court filings.

Fedspending.org

The Project on Government Oversight guide provides useful context on how billions of federal dollars are spent.

TRAC

A database maintained by Syracuse University professors that provides “comprehensive information about staffing, spending, and enforcement activities of the federal government.” Much of this information is gleaned from FOIA requests.

OpenSecrets.org

This is a go-to site to trace political contributions and lobbying activity at the federal level.

FollowtheMoney.org

A guide to political contributions in state elections.

Search Engines for People, Businesses

Nuwber Pipl Who is John Doe – and where to get the paper on him AnyWho

A variety of websites for finding U.S. people, addresses, phone numbers and other relevant information. Pro tip: first run a search on yourself to test the accuracy of these websites. Buyer beware

Foreign Agents Registration Unit

A Justice Department site for finding information on registered foreign agents.

Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE)

The Investigative Reporters and Editors site provides a deep archive of data and story tip sheets that can save hours of time as you refine your reporting.

Wayback Machine

If a company or person pulls down a website, you might be able to find a cached version here. A useful tool to check the before and after on a company’s website if they tried to scrub it.

Guidestar

This site provides tax returns of non-profit organizations, known as a Form 990, that reveal financials and players at charities, public hospitals and other entities.

FlightAware

This site allows you to track airplane flights. This 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.

FRED – Economic Data

Make quick charts from employment and other economic data to provide context for stories. An easy-to-use site run by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing

This group, known as Sabew, provides training and resources for its members ranging from shooting mobile video to digging into health care data.

Major government databases

Our friends at Journalist’s Resource at Harvard University compiled this terrific one-stop website for major administrative datasets in the U.S. government.

Social Media

Twitter is a great resource to monitor companies and competitors, as well as other media coverage. Create separate Twitter lists to monitor topics, beats, companies. Use Tweetdeck to display the lists in discrete columns.

LinkedIn to find current and former employees of a company. Remember the former workers typically are freer to talk. Cross-reference LinkedIn searches with the BrokerCheck database helps run down former workers at Wall Street firms.

Recommended Reading

Houston, Brant (2008) Investigative Reporter’s Handbook, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s; Fifth edition

This 576-page guide, written by the former executive director of the Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc., is a gold mine of tips and tricks of the trade.

Smith, Rebecca, and John R. Emshwiller (2003) 24 Days : How Two Wall Street Journal Reporters Uncovered the Lies That Destroyed Faith in Corporate America, New York: HarperBusiness, 2003.

This is a highly readable and interesting account about how exactly journalists cover a major corporation and how they discovered the strands of a multi-billion dollar fraud.

Carreyrou, John (2018) Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup New York: Knopf

This Wall Street Journal reporter exposes the fraud underlying Theranos, its magnetic founder Elizabeth Holmes and her unproven technology to make blood tests faster and easier. This is a major work exposing the hype behind Silicon Valley technology start-ups.

Hetherington, Cynthia (2010) Business Background Investigations: Tools and Techniques for Solution Driven Due Diligence, Tempe, AZ: Facts On Demand Press., 2nd edition

This guide by a specialist in corporate intelligence and investigations describes how to check on financial and criminal problems of businesses.

Waisbord, Silvio (2013) Watchdog Journalism in South America: News, Accountability and Democracy. New York:  Columbia University Press

This study by George Washington University professor Silvio Waisbord describes investigative reporting challenges outside of the United States, ranging from lack of public records to cultural barriers. An important book to understand investigative reporting in a global context.

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

This group led the Pulitzer-Prize winning Panama Papers investigation and several other high impact projects. It is a network of 220 investigative reporters from 83 countries and territories.

ProPublica

This independent and nonprofit newsroom produces a wide range of innovative investigative journalism. Their data journalism is an industry standard. Julia Angwin’s reporting about Facebook’s misuse of private information was well ahead of the pack. The site partners with legacy media outlets for complex investigations.

Center for Public Integrity

One of the oldest and largest nonprofit news outlets in the country. “Our mission is to protect democracy and inspire change using investigative reporting that exposes betrayals of the public trust by powerful interests.”

Bartlett & Steele Awards for Investigative Business Journalism

Since 2007, the Reynolds Center has recognized some of the best investigative business journalism is recognized each year with this contest, named after legendary reporters Donald Bartlett and James Steele. Reading the award-winning entries is illuminating and inspiring.

Corporate Research Project

This site unearths critical information about corporate welfare, employment discrimination and similar topics. It is produced by the Washington, D.C.-based Good Jobs First, which describes itself as a national policy resource center for grassroots groups and public officials.