CAMP 2017: Big scoops on a small budget

Story by Lisa Thomson, 2017 JAWS Fellow | Photo by Erica Yoon, CAMP photographer

Lucia Walinchus lead the Sunday morning reporter’s toolkit session, Big Scoops on a Small Budget: Investigative Reporting for Freelancers and Small Newsrooms at CAMP 2017. During her session, Walinchus, a freelance journalist, provided tips for finding and reporting investigative stories.

Before getting into the details, she explained that as newsrooms shrink they’re increasingly relying on freelancers, making this a great opportunity for those looking to try out investigative work. She also pointed to this article for some insight into the current state of the industry.

Walinchus gave tips ranging from the practical – such as using a smart pen so you don’t have to transcribe all your interviews – to going old school and hitting up your local library. Here are some of the main take-aways from her session:

Law library aka “the happiest sad place in the world”
Walinchus says although Google has improved its capacity for legal research in the recent past, few things are a substitute for walking up to a law librarian to find everything you might need to know about regulations or corporations. WestLaw and LexisNexis are the two databases she recommends, saying that using these you can not only find the regulations themselves, but also every reference or cross reference of the one you’re investigating.

Walinchus points out that while federal courts hear the big sexy cases that everyone hears about, state courts, which hear the highest volume of cases, can be a great place to look for story ideas and trends.

Story ideas

  • What 10 biggest companies went bankrupt this year and why?
  • Which large companies in your area are sued the most and why?
  • What were the 10 largest healthcare verdicts in your jurisdiction and why?
  • What are the 10 worst nursing homes in your area and why?
  • How did the government pick its vendors for state conferences?

Suggested books and websites
“Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely

General resources for investigative reporting
Walinchus told her audience,“learning to code is definitely a must,” and offered a few easy to understand resource for those who might think it’s too far outside of their wheelhouse.

Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction To Programming by Jason R. Briggs
Scraping for Journalists by Paul Bradshaw (Author)

She also offered up a few examples of great investigative reporting:

The University of Louisville Foundation Bought An Empty Factory In Oklahoma—Because A Donor Asked – Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting

No Opinion: Lawyers Say Lack of Criminal Court Publishing Hurts Them, Their Clients – The Journal Record

Louisiana public defenders lose key source of income as prosecutors divert speeding ticket fines – The Advocate

Tenants on trial: Investigation shows landlords win 95 percent of eviction cases – The Journal Record

They thought they were going to rehab. They ended up in chicken plants – Reveal

And last but not least, of course, “you should all be FOIA ninjas,” said Walinchus.