Looking forward to the future of journalism

How shoe-leather reporting uncovered a bizarre bankruptcy tied to Senator Carlos Uresti

Patrick Danner story about Carlos Uresti

Earlier this year, Express-News business writer Patrick Danner set out to write a story about the rising number of oil and gas companies going bust in South Texas. What he found instead was a bizarre saga about a bankrupt company accused of fraud and its hidden ties to Texas state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio. … Read more

What’s Evernote for? How about making a vast, searchable archive of all your files

Evernote

Evernote turns eight years old this week. But even after all these years, some people have trouble grasping what, exactly, this mystical app is supposed to do. Is it for taking notes? Saving bookmarks? Taking photos? All of the above? Everyone’s needs are different. But for me, Evernote really shines as a vast, searchable archive … Read more

Insightful FOIA tips from ‘FOIA terrorist’ Jason Leopold at NICAR 2016

Jason Leopold of Vice News

It’s impossible to say enough good things about NICAR 2016, a journalism conference in Denver where more than a thousand attendees honed their data-wrangling skills. NICAR is all about finding good stories in data. But what stood out for me was a talk by investigative reporter Jason Leopold of Vice News about using the Freedom … Read more

How to check safety inspections for any elevator or escalator in Texas

View from the Tower of the Americas

The elevators at the Tower of the Americas in San Antonio look like something out of the Jetsons. Yet every once in a while, the futuristic contraptions get stuck, stranding people hundreds of feet in the air. Last week it happened again. Firefighters rescued 14 people, including two children, who were trapped inside a stalled … Read more

Review: Go back in time with Cogi to record fleeting moments

When we watched the State of the Union address with our kids a few weeks ago, 3-year-old Sophie Sue was amazed at how members of Congress were sitting still and listening. They weren’t fidgeting, looking around or running off to play with Legos. “Wow, they’re doing a good job, right?” said the little Tedesco munchkin. … Read more

Up in Flames: Flares wasting natural gas in the Eagle Ford Shale

If you drive through the bustling oil patch of the Eagle Ford Shale near San Antonio, it won’t take long to find the surreal sight of flares burning natural gas like perpetual bonfires. Natural gas is cheap. Pipelines are expensive. So instead of collecting the fossil fuel, many oil and gas operators build tall, metallic … Read more

New search tips for 2014 from Google research scientist Daniel Russell

I couldn’t attend the 2014 Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in San Francisco this year. But thankfully, Google researcher Daniel Russell was there. He gave another excellent presentation about search-engine strategies and posted his advice online. As the Uber Tech Lead at Google, Dan studies how people search the web. He started sharing little-known search … Read more

Telling stories about the unthinkable: How three journalists shined a spotlight on child abuse

Sarah Brasse
Sarah Brasse

In February 2009, an 8-year-old girl from Schertz died, alone, of acute appendicitis — a disease that could have easily been treated if caught in time.

In the hours leading up to her death, people concerned about the girl — including officers from the Schertz Police Department — had warned the Texas Department of Child Protective Services that she was a victim of neglect.

CPS didn’t act. And on Feb. 5, 2009, authorities found the girl’s body in a soiled bed.

Her name was Sarah Brasse.

It wasn’t so long ago in Texas that you would have had a tough time learning any of those tragic details.

In fact, according to the state officials in charge of protecting children from abusive adults, you would have had no legal right to even know Brasse’s name.

And you certainly wouldn’t be able to know the agency missed opportunities to help Brasse.

But a decade of diligent reporting by three Express-News journalists shined a spotlight of transparency on tragedies involving Brasse and scores of other children in San Antonio, helping the public understand the unfathomable.

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More awesome search tips from Google expert Daniel Russell, with real-world examples

Daniel Russell, research master at Google
Daniel Russell, research master at Google

When a research scientist at Google offers to show you how to unlock the full potential of the powerful search engine, you pay attention.

Last year Daniel Russell spoke at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Boston. Dan showed us search techniques that can make anyone a better researcher. Some tips I already knew. Others I thought I understood but didn’t. And some I had no idea existed.

I thought Dan’s talk was eye-opening — and others had the same reaction. My post about his presentation last year was widely shared, so there’s enormous interest to learn more about how Google works and how to use it effectively.

You gotta know a little bit about how to make Google dance. This is all mother’s milk for investigative reporters.”

Since that conference a year ago, Dan began offering online classes. I’ve had a year to practice many of these techniques. And about a week ago, Dan spoke again at the IRE conference in San Antonio with even more advice.

“You gotta know a little bit about how to make Google dance,” Dan said at his panel, Digging in with Google. “This is all mother’s milk for investigative reporters.”

I thought it’d be a good idea to compile some of the interesting new techniques, and revisit tips Dan discussed last year with some real-world examples of how journalists used them in actual news stories. Many of these methods also work on other search engines, such as Yahoo! and Bing.

These tips are for journalists, researchers, librarians and anyone else who wants to learn new ways to find information. Google will never replace the importance of shoe-leather reporting — knocking on doors and talking to real people. But Google can help reporters find the right doors to knock on and reveal surprising details about the people you’re talking to. Knowing how to find obscure information on the Internet is a vital skill for any journalist.

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Live-blogging the IRE 2013 Conference in San Antonio: Resources that will help you be a better journalist

IRE Conference 2013

Check out some of my favorite research tips, strategies and resources from this year’s Investigative Reporters and Editors conference, where about 1,100 incredibly talented journalists are meeting in San Antonio. These conferences are geared for journalists, but really anyone who’s interested in research tools will find many of these tips handy.

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