Monday, June 11, 2012

What would YOU tell an investigative reporter about search?

One of the great parts of my job is the chance to go out and teach people how to search.  

This week I'll be in Boston attending the Investigative Reporters & Editors conference, and on Friday I'll have a full hour to teach them some of the more interesting bits about doing searchResearch on the web.  

While I have an idea about what I'll be talking about (lots of examples from this blog), I'm really curious what you, my loyal readers, think I should be teaching.  

Any ideas?  Any particular skills or approaches that would be most useful?

If you're a reporter or editor, what do you think would be most interesting and valuable to know about?  

You don't have to write an entire thesis (that's the beauty of crowdsourcing--every little contribution helps).  

Searching for good ideas.... 



  1. Based on the shoddy reporting I've seen in the papers, I'd say that the most important thing for them is to learn how to check their sources. Too many wild rumors get reported as facts.

    Second, "balance" is not as important as truth. Getting the "other" side of a story seems to mean giving credence to any crackpot who can be found.

  2. premise

    it's not news any more, it's entertainment which supports minutes watched/clicks counted which supports media brands which supports profit


    concentrate on telling PEOPLE your hard-earned wisdom, telling reports/editors means your message will be so translated/skewed/warped as to be irrelevant.

    Checking facts is the biggest bang for your buck IMO. Unfortunately journalists aren't going to reveal to their audience how to check facts 'cause they'll be putting themselves out of a job ;-)

  3. Mr. Russell - you face a daunting task talking to folks in a dying industry - or at least, a dynamically morphing media environment - who desperately want to be relevant... or maybe famous? and spend too much time looking in the rearview... IMHO.

    Anyway, my 2¢ worth regarding your Boston sojourn:

    Crowdsourcing might be good for movie or food recommendations, even quick info bits, probably not so much for something like this. btw, whatever happened to $50 million and aardvark? I digress. Ask Siri?

    It would seem that the largest challenge today is sifting all that is available. The use of mis-information & blended information are significant obstacles used to hinder access to relevant facts. Also, the vastly accelerated info flow - that diminishes any measured reflection or digestion of information and its consequences. While a crusader's mentality might be required, a crusader's zeal should be avoided.

    As "some tech guy" once said: they need to "think different" to have any hope of not being swallowed alive in the quicksand of today's information deluge.

    You might consider passing out virtual bumper stickers - with a prominent Google Doodle type IRE logo - that had WWWD? on it - what would Woodward do? I'm sure most of them aspire to that model - shake things, then become a classic inside player.

    You might probe them with a couple queries that might be helpful to all parties: how would something like Watergate or the Lewinsky scandals go down now? Would they even happen? What about something a little less politically overt like the Jeffrey Wigand case? Can the large financial interests involved these days be countered in a meaningful way? How many, at least 10 years into their careers, would choose the same path again if they could start over?

    At the very least, suggest they hire good research assistants and get decent web sites....
    keep a listed ground line phone number and change their middle names to "Upshur" ;^) enjoy Boston and the wet cabs.

    That's only 1.72¢ - best I can do. OH, and take & wear a pair of those Google Glasses - you will be the envy of the conference!
    ... even if they don't SearchReSearch, they can look snappy trying.

    Bernstein-top billing for a change


    enhanced glasses

  4. - they should also SearchReSearch their past for successes & failures... how many know/understand Drew Pearson and Jack Northman Anderson?

    "After a stint as a war correspondent during 1945, he was hired by Drew Pearson for the staff of his column, the "Merry-Go-Round," which Anderson took over after Pearson's death in 1969. In its heyday, Anderson's column was the most influential and widely read in the U.S.; published in nearly a thousand newspapers, he reached an audience of 40 million." Wikipedia.

    Those days are long gone, but the impetus isn't.

    Not only need to understand HOW to search, but WHY...

  5. teach where to find well build open data sets to check the data before they publish something. teach how to ask politely for true data... and how to motivate people to give real data. teach how to share the value of an interview so that people could give spontaneously some data to investigate. Follow the money. Use imagination (sometimes just searching for "billions" and "founding" just gives some examples on how to create a context in the mind of the readers for the data you want to describe). Interview a lot of people and ask for the source of their data. Ask for help from statisticians, often reality is more complicated than our readers might want to read. Use of google operators. ciao :)