The Investigative Reporter's Handbook: A Guide to Documents, Databases, and Techniques / Edition 5

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Published with Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. (IRE), The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook is the best-selling classroom and newsroom classic. Useful as a textbook in advanced journalism courses and as a reference for professional journalists, this book shows students how to use fundamental news reporting and writing skills like gathering sources, tracking information, and interviewing to pursue investigative stories in a variety of beats — from the government and education to healthcare, the environment and real estate. In addition to discussing the latest techniques and challenges in the profession, the fifth edition is now thoroughly streamlined, making it easier to locate the resources that investigative reporters need to get the story.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312442651
  • Publisher: Bedford/St. Martin's
  • Publication date: 11/7/2008
  • Edition description: Fifth Edition
  • Edition number: 5
  • Pages: 608
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.19 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Brant Houston is the Knight Chair in Investigative & Enterprise Reporting at the College of Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was the executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism for 10 years. The author of three editions of "Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide," Houston served as managing director of the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting for three years after working in daily journalism for 17 years. He was an award-winning investigative reporter at The Hartford (Conn.) Courant, The Kansas City Star and several news organizations in the Boston area.

Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. is a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of investigative reporting. IRE was formed in 1975 to create a forum in which journalists throughout the world could help each other by sharing story ideas, newsgathering techniques and news sources.

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Table of Contents



Part I: The Basics: How to Investigate Anyone or Anything

Chapter 1: The Investigative Process

The Investigative Process

Choosing a Subject for Investigation

The Research Hypothesis

Secondary Sources

Having a "Documents State of Mind"

Human Sources

Research Techniques

Organizing Information

Questioning Conventional Wisdom

The Paul Williams Way

Step 1: Conception

Step 2: Feasibility Study

Step 3: Go/No-Go Decision

Step 4: Base Building

Step 5: Planning

Step 6: Original Research

Step 7: Re-evaluation

Step 8: Filling the Gaps

Step 9: Final Evaluation
Step 10: Writing and Rewriting

Step 11: Publication or Airing of the Story and Follow-up Stories

Chapter 2. Secondary Sources


Finding the Right Newspapers

Stories and Announcements

Legal Notices, Police Reports and Classified Ads

Non-Newspaper Secondary Sources

Broadcast and Cable Sources

Magazine and Newsletters

Reference Books

Dissertations and Theses



Search Techniques

Key Word and Citation Searches


Secondary Source Databases

Chapter 3. Primary Documents

Specific Primary Documents

Using Social Security Numbers

Public Records

Vital Records

The Uniform Commercial Code

Liens and Tax Documents

Primary Documents Databases

Commercial Databases

Government Agency Records

Government Databases

Depository Libraries

Technical and Scientific Sources

The National Archives System

Putting It All Together

Using Primary Documents: A Real-Life Example

Using Primary Documents: A Sample Investigation

Chapter 4. Computer-Assisted Reporting

Finding, Accessing and Using Computer Databases

The Tools of Computer-Assisted Reporting

Finding Databases and Deciding Which to Use

Keeping Databases on Hand

Gaining Access

Local Data Sources


Business and Economy

Property and Tax Records

Guns and Crime


Courts and Jail

City and County Government



The Environmental

State Data Sources

Federal Databases

Demographic Data

Other Federal Data Sources

Chapter 5. People Trails

Identifying and Evaluating Sources

"Formers" and "Currents"


Outside Experts

Locating Sources

Online Tools

Telephone Directories

City Directories

Workplace Directories

Personal Habits

Useful Documents and Records

Mapping Power Structures

Interviewing Sources

Researching the Source

Looking for Credentials Fraud in Resumes

Getting in the Door

Understanding the Source’s Motivations

Preparing Questions

Structuring the Interview

Taking Notes and Following Up

Chapter 6. Writing the Compelling Investigation

The Fundamentals

Writing an Effective Story

Getting the Details

Avoiding Clichés and Stereotypes

Writing from Chronologies and Outlines

Story Structures

Focus and Resolution

Leads: The Opening Sentences

Middles: Flow and Momentum

Point of View and Tone


Chapter 7. Ethics of Investigative Reporting

Ethics and Accuracy

Fairness and the Law

The Golden Rule

Dilemmas in Reporting

Obtaining Information Covertly

Conducting Ambush Interviews

Exposing Private Behaviors of Public Figures

Using Unidentified and Paid Sources

Writing Ethical, Accurate Stories

Line-by-Line Accuracy Check

Prepublication Review

Part II. Investigating the Government

Chapter 8. Investigating the Executive Branch

The Players and Processes

Understanding Government Agencies

Using the Federal Register

Making Sense of Agency Budgets

Consultants and Contractors

The Contracting Process

Budget and Management Watchdogs

Investigating Federal Affairs

The Top Executive

Cabinet Appointments

Conflicts of Interest

Inspectors General

The Permanent Bureaucracy

Public Affairs Personnel

Public Authorities and Self-Regulatory Organizations

Investigating State and Local Affairs

The Governor

Public Employees

Campaign Finance Corruption

Using the State Register

Chapter 9. Investigating the Legislative Branch

Investigating Congress

Following the Money

Campaign Finance


Financial Disclosure of Legislators

Resources and Perquisites in Office

Personal Character

Making Legislation

Authorizations and Appropriations

Committees and Oversight

Government Accountability Office: The Research and Investigative Arm of Congress

Investigating Local Legislatures

Following the Money


Other Paper and People Sources

Chapter 10. Investigating the Judicial System

Approaches to Investigating the Judicial System

The Judicial System as a Political System

Two Tracks: Civil Cases and Criminal Cases

Tracking the Civil Case

Tracking the Criminal Case: From Arrest to Sentencing

Between Arrest and First Court Appearance

From Jail to Courthouse

Initial Appearance in Court

Pretrial Hearings

The Assignment of Judges

The Jury

Case Backlogs

Victims of Crimes



Investigating Punishment: Prison, Probation, Parole, Commutations, and Pardons

Gaining Access to Prisons

Prison Conditions



Commutations and Pardons

Investigating Juvenile Cases and Family Court

Juvenile Cases

Family Court

Investigating Judicial Operations and Personnel

Court Budgets and Court Operations




Defense Attorneys

Wrongful Convictions

Investigating Specialized Courts

Traffic Court

Municipal Court

Divorce Court

Probate Court

Small Claims Court

U.S. Tax Court

U.S. Bankruptcy Court

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

U.S. Military Courts

Chapter 11. Investigating Law Enforcement

Investigating Local Police

Monitoring Individual Law Enforcement Officers



Raises, Promotions and Pensions

The Top Command

Discipline of Wayward Officers


Police Reporter Edna Buchanan’s Tips

Preventing and Investigating Crimes



Domestic Violence



Missing Persons

Stolen Property



Traffic Violations

Organized Crime and White-Collar Crime

Juvenile Crime

Investigating Other Aspects of Law Enforcement

Patrol Officers, Dispatchers and 911 Operators

Crime Scene Technicians and Crime Laboratories

Evidence Rooms

Coroners and Medical Examiners

Canine (K9) Corps

Civil Rights and Community Relations

Resources for Investigating Law Enforcement

Crime Statistics

Budgets and Contracts

Records Divisions and Public Information Officers

People Trails

Paper Trails

Chapter 12. Investigating Education

Issues in K-12 Education

Student Test Scores

School Violence and Discipline

Student Retention


Class Size

Technology and Corporate Sponsorship

Special-Needs Students

Race, Class and Gender Equity

School Choice

Investigating School Personnel and Facilities



School Staff

School Buildings

Approaches to Investigating the Schools

Following the Money

Private Schools


Vocational and Trade Schools

Issues in Higher Education

Document Trails

Public University Revenues and Expenditures

Accreditation Documents

Enrollment and Retention

Diversity, Disabilities and Affirmative Action

In the Classroom

Outside the Classroom


Campus Safety



Support Staff

Governing Boards

Part III. Investigating Business

Chapter 13. Investigating For-Profit Businesses

Investigating Companies

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Annual Reports

Federal Regulatory Agencies

State and Local Business Agencies

The Paper Trail: Public Documents

The Paper Trail: Other Document Sources

Human Sources

The Overlooked Resource: Labor

Labor Lawyers and the Courts

Investigating the Workplace

Labor Unions

Labor Relation Boards

Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration

Safety and Health

Wage Enforcement


State Employment Securities Divisions

Investigating Licensed Professionals

Finding Licensing Documents

The Licensing Process

Professional Associations as Sources

Investigating the Protectors

Chapter 14. Investigating Non-profit and Religious Organizations

Investigating Charities and Foundations

Where to Begin: Questions and Documents

The Gaul and Borowski Model

Form 990: The Annual Informational Tax Return

Fund-raising Techniques and Conundrums


Federal, State and Local Government Regulation

Investigating Religious Organizations

Chapter 15. Investigating Financial Institutions and Insurance

Investigating Financial Institutions

Government Regulators


Savings and Loans

Credit Unions

Credit Card Companies

Investment Companies and Mutual Funds

Investigating the Issues

Redlining and Community Reinvestment

Insider Transactions

High-Risk Transactions

Money Laundering

Investigating Insurance

Health and Disability Insurance

Life Insurance

Auto insurance

Homeowners’ and Other Property Insurance

Commercial and Professional Insurance

Investigating the Players

Company and Their Finances


State Regulators

The Government as Insurer

Workers Compensation

Chapter 16. Investigating Health Care

Investigating Hospitals

Accreditation and Regulation

Costs and Billing

Hospital Errors

Indigent Care

Ambulances and Other Emergency Medical Services

Investigating Other Care Providers

Veterans Administration Hospitals

Nursing Homes

Mental Health Institutions

Home Health Care Companies

Physicians, Nurses and Other Health Care Workers

Investigating Suppliers and Services

Health Maintenance Organizations

Medical Research and Journals

Pharmaceutical Companies


Medical Device Companies

Medical Laboratories

Blood Banks

Part IV. Investigating Issues

Chapter 17. Investigating Energy and Utilities

Investigating Utilities

State Regulation

Federal Energy Regulation

Gas and Electric Utilities

Nuclear Power

Water Utilities

Communication Utilities

Cable Utilities

Chapter 18. Investigating the Environment

Investigating the Environment

Regulation: The Environmental Protection Agency

Other Federal Agencies

Using the Toxic Release Inventory

Air Pollution

Water Pollution

Soil Pollution and Hazardous Waste

Chapter 19. Investigating Transportation

Investigating Land Transportation


Car Inspections and Driving Records

Drunk Drivers

Motorcycles and All-Terrain Vehicles

Trucks and Buses

Taxis and Limousine Services

Bridges and Roads


Hazardous Waste

Mass Transit

Investigating Aviation

Pilots and Flight Crews

Air Controllers and Ground Crews



Commuter, Cargo Planes and Government Flights

Using Air Databases


Investigating Water Transportation

Commercial Shipping

Coast Guard

Regulatory Agencies

Chapter 20. Investigating Real Estate

The Document Trail: Finding Real Estate Records


Government Documents


Mortgage Documents

Issues in Real Estate Investigations

Property Values and Tax Assessment

Landlords and Tenants

Development, Zoning and Rezoning

New Developments

Low-Income Housing

Chapter 21. Investigating the World of the Disadvantaged

Investigating the Issues

Special Challenges

Financial Exploitation


Children and Families


Health Care

Investigating the Programs

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Child-Support Enforcement

Food Stamps

Other Child and Family Nutrition Programs

Other Assistance Programs

Welfare Reform

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