2012 Drilling Deep Investigative Reporting Workshop: Los Angeles

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 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 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, 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, 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.


Los Angeles Speakers:

Steve Doig, Knight Chair in Journalism at the Cronkite School at Arizona State University

Steve Doig is the Knight Chair in Journalism, specializing in computer-assisted reporting (CAR), at the Cronkite School at Arizona State University. Doig joined ASU in 1996 after a 23-year career as a newspaper journalist, including 19 years at the Miami Herald. There, he served variously as research editor, pollster, science editor, columnist, state capital bureau chief and aviation writer.

He has won numerous major prizes in journalism, including the Pulitzer (1993).  A graduate of Dartmouth College, he actively consults with print and broadcast news media outlets around the world on computer-assisted reporting problems. Most recently, he did the data analysis for a year-long investigation by CaliforniaWatch.org into hospital billing practices in the state. He is an active member of Investigative Reporters & Editors and served on the 4,000-member organization’s board of directors for four years.

Ken Bensinger, Los Angeles Times

Since 2007, Ken Bensinger has been a staff writer for the business section of the Los Angeles Times. His coverage has included the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler and Toyota’s sudden acceleration crisis, for which he was named a Pulitzer finalist and won a Gerald Loeb award in beat reporting in 2010.

His reporting on the Buy Here Pay Here subprime auto lending industry was recognized with a 2012 Gerald Loeb award for large newspapers. Bensinger began his career at the Wall Street Journal, covering the art market and from 2001 to 2005 worked as a freelance journalist in Mexico City. Subsequently, he was a staff reporter for SmartMoney magazine, covering banking and consumer finance.

Bensinger graduated from Duke University in 1997 and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.

Kelly Carr, Senior Online Producer, Reynolds Center for Business Journalism and freelance investigative reporter

Kelly Carr is a freelance investigative reporter and a senior online producer at the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, a national nonprofit institute that trains business journalists at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Before joining the Reynolds staff in 2007, she worked as a reporter for several newspapers, including The Arizona Republic. As an enterprise correspondent for Reuters, she won a 2012 Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism for a series detailing the use of U.S. shell and shelf companies. The series also won the National Press Club Award for Consumer Journalism (Periodicals), the New York Press Club Business Reporting Award and the 2011 Foreign Press Association Media Award for Financial/Economic Reporting.

Kelly has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College and holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University. She also was a adjunct journalism professor at the Cronkite school, a fellow at The Poynter Institute and a contributing writer for “Cancer Stories: Lessons in Love, Loss & Hope.

Lorie Hearn, Executive director of Investigative Newsource

Lorie Hearn is executive director of Investigative Newsource, a data-driven journalism nonprofit on the campus of San Diego State University.  Prior to founding INewsource, Hearn was the senior editor for metro and watchdog ournalism at The San Diego Union-Tribune. Her reporters and editors joined the newspaper’s Washington bureau in the 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning stories that exposed the bribery of now-imprisoned Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham.  Hearn was a Nieman Foundation fellow at Harvard University in 1994-95.  INewsource was founded in 2009. Its primary partner is KPBS, the PBS and NPR affiliate in San Diego. Hearn is journalist-in-residence at SDSU where she teaches a course in Investigative Journalism.

Warren Watson, Seminar Organizer and Moderator

Warren, the executive director of SABEW, developed the “Drilling Deep” investigative reporting series, which brings IR workshops to Toronto, Oklahoma City, Tampa and San Francisco in 2012.

Warren spent 25 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and executive before moving into journalism education in 1998. He was vice president of the American Press Institute until 2004 when he became director of J-Ideas, a First Amendment institute at Indiana’s Ball State University.

Watson was a co-founder of the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism in 2003. He joined SABEW in August 2009.  He earned a master’s degree in journalism from Ball State in 2008.

About the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation

The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, based in Oklahoma City, was established in 1982 by Edith Kinney Gaylord. The Foundation’s mission is to invest in the future of journalism by building the ethics, skills and opportunities needed to advance principled, probing news and information. The Foundation does so through contributions to media institutions and journalism schools nationwide, primarily in areas of youth education, professional development, ethics and investigative reporting.

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