Shannon Philpott-Sanders

Writing, Reflecting, Teaching, Parenting

Reporters Can’t Be Shy

Reporters can’t be shy. Plain and simple – there’s no other way to put it. In order to report, you have to approach people, talk with people and gather information.

You can’t hide behind a computer hoping for an e-mail response from a source. You can’t base an entire story from online research and worse yet, trust all online sources. And, you can’t use the excuse – I couldn’t find any sources – if you want to stay employed.

However, if you have a shy nature, there are ways to prepare yourself mentally for the task of breaking out of your shell. There are online sources that can provide multitudes of information to prepare you to ask the questions to human sources that need to be asked.

Recently, I wrote a post about how Story Sources are Everywhere. I’d like to take that notion one step further and point out that investigative resources are everywhere, too.

For example, last year in my Writing and Reporting course, I walked students through an investigative journey. We chose someone at random – Albert Puhols. Albert was the perfect target since we are located in St. Louis and it was the day of the Cardinals’ home opener.

During this class session, we were able to find the tax forms for his non-profit charities, his business licenses, vehicle registrations (5, to be exact), his home addresses and property values – all public records and all online.

To non-reporters, this may seem like an invasion of privacy. It is not, though. It is accessible information that if used, ethically, brings awareness to the community and depth to a story.

For beginning and student reporters, it is crucial to make the time to familiarize yourselves with city, county, state and federal databases that provide this type of information.

A few places to start:

  1. County property appraiser sites:  Find property appraisal information for an individual or business
  2. Browse through billions of web pages archived from 1996 to the present
  3. Search district court civil case filings (once you find a case you want to investigate, go to PACER to see the case documents)
  4. Complete database of non-profit financial forms and records
  5. List of federal, state and local government agencies providing free online access to public record information
  6. Archive of beat by beat resources for journalists.
  7. Listing of more than 100 agencies and directory of governmental statistical resources.
  8. A guide to political campaign contributions
  9. Searchable database to determine who owns a domain or website
  10. Online crime mapping, using information from local police departments to detail robberies, burglaries, assaults, thefts and stolen vehicles

Still feeling shy? Once you arm yourself with this type of data, you’ll be eager to confirm facts and investigate answers from human sources, write an in-depth investigative story and inform the community.

Isn’t that what reporting is all about?


– Shannon Philpott
Blog Entry: April 16, 2010

© Shannon Philpott, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Shannon Philpott and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


April 16, 2010 - Posted by | Blog, Journalism, Teaching | , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

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