Director’s Blog: Drilling Deep in L.A.

Posted By admin on Monday September 24, 2012

By WARREN WATSON
SABEW Executive Director

LOS ANGELES – Fifty-two journalists, mostly from Southern California, attended a special SABEW workshop on investigative Journalism Sept. 21 at the Los Angeles Times.

The “Drilling Deep” seminar was the third in a four-workshop series funded by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.  Earlier workshops were held in Toronto and Oklahoma City.  The final workshop in the series will be held in Tampa Oct. 19.

It was another great turnout. We’ve now had more than 160 journalists take part in these special one-day programs on accountability reporting.

Speakers included: Ken Bensinger, Los Angeles Times; Kelly Carr, Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism; Steve Doig, Arizona State University; Lorie Hearn, Investigative Newsource, San Diego; and me.

Hearn:

Hearn discussed how investigative journalism is practiced differently today as many media outlets have cut back on staffing.  Her Investigative Newsource organization is a not-for-profit focusing on issues central to San Diego and Southern California.

‘There is less competition around investigative work today and more cooperation between parties to get the story,” said Hearn.  “You have to be entrepreneurial today and try to get your work before as many people as possible.”

Hearn told the group that good investigative stories often derive from the intersection of business and government.  A certain curiosity and skepticism also is fuel for a good investigation, she said.

“And if you have a bit of ‘geekster’ in you you’ll surely have the potential for a great career in journalism,” said Hearn.

Bensinger:

Bensinger shared numerous tricks and tips drawn from his work, some of which has been honored with Best in Business and Loeb awards.

“It’s all about your data,” he said.  “Ready the tiny print.  Read and read and read.  At some point, the boring stuff can become intriguing.  What is the story.  Go with your gut.  Is there something you’re obsessed with”

He suggested looking everywhere for information.  “Is it available online? Or in a press office.  Or in a lawsuit…”

Bensinger told attendees that sources for information are numerous:

·      Lexis-Nexus
·      Consumer groups
·      Industry groups
·      SEC filings.

“ Consider lawyers.  They know more than you think.  They want clients.  Dopn’t think that all they want is truth, justice and the American way,” he said.

Carr:

Carr, who freelancers for Reuters, discussed her award-winning story about so-called shell companies, pointing out that there are developing “secrecy havens” in the United States.  She said that many eastern European companies are laundering money through shell setups.

“We did a lot through team reporting.  We had to connect the dots,” she said.  “Working in teams allows you to set your ego aside.”

Doig:

Doig, the Knight chair in computer assisted reporting (CAR) at Arizona State, traced the history of CAR.

Made possible by personal computers, CAR (or precision journalism), said Doig, seeks out patterns and outliers.  “Microsoft Excel is the best tool in CAR,” said Doig.  “It allows you to go beyond the anecdote” in producing effective investigations.

*****

In the final analysis, investigative reporting can help media companies use good content to help the reader experience.
Quality newspapers, websites and TV stations produce quality investigative reporting.

As Gene Roberts, the former great Philadelphia editor, once said, ‘Really important things seep and creep.’  Today’s reporters have to seek out these important truths.

Warren Watson conceived the Drilling Deep series and spoke at the L.A. workshop.

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