Looking forward to the future of journalism

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.

Read more

How to make stunning time-lapse videos: Q&A with photojournalist Tamir Kalifa

Freelance photojournalist Tamir Kalifa spent two days working on this stunning time-lapse video of the Texas Legislature’s opening day for the 83rd legislative session. Lawmakers convene in Austin every two years and the event is widely covered by the media. But Kalifa, an intern at the Texas Tribune, captured the energy of the day in a unique, compelling way. I called him to ask how he did it.

Q: This is actually the second time the Texas Tribune has done a time lapse of the opening day of the Texas Legislature.

A: Yeah, that’s correct.

What were you trying to convey in this particular video and how does time lapse help you do that?

Tamir Kalifa
Kalifa
Well, I think that during the off year, the Texas government is sort of hibernating and waiting for this huge burst of energy that happens in the first few months of the year. So really what I wanted to show was the Legislature sort of waking up and coming to life and the excitement that everybody — from the legislators to the lobbyists to the lawyers to everyone’s families — I wanted to get across how people are hugely involved. I just thought doing a time lapse was the most efficient way to show the enormous scale of it. There were thousands and thousands of people swarming around the Capitol. There was an enormous line waiting to get into the House chamber to hear Joe Straus, to see him sworn in again.

It was amazing. I’m a musician in Austin. Free Week is just coming to a close now. You had all these free shows and everybody is clamoring to get in. It’s one in, one out when it gets to capacity. I realized, as I was desperately trying to get into the House to just get a little glimpse of it, there are a lot of Texans who get that kind of enjoyment and excitement out of the government. And that’s awesome. I really wanted to show that and kind of show the grandeur of it. There aren’t that many things in Texas that are as old as the capital. So it’s also cool to showcase it in that way.

Read more

How to create maps and charts with Google Fusion Tables

The friendly folks at the Association of Health Care Journalists held a conference last week in San Antonio, and they invited me to present an introduction about Google Fusion Tables. If you’re familiar with Microsoft Excel or Access, you might like Fusion Tables. It’s a free tool that allows you to create interactive maps and … Read more

Become a Google power searcher: Google is now offering free search lessons online

Wow, a lot of people are very, very eager to learn how to search the web more effectively. My post about Daniel Russell’s awesome Google search techniques has generated a ton of traffic and great reactions. And today we learn that Google is going to start offering lessons to people to become power searchers. Course … Read more

How to solve impossible problems: Daniel Russell’s awesome Google search techniques

Daniel Russell stood in front of a crowd of investigative journalists in Boston last week and showed us this picture of a random skyscraper in an unknown city:

Google challenge by Daniel Russell

Russell posed a riddle:

What’s the phone number of the office where this picture was snapped?

Let that sink in. He wasn’t asking for a phone number for the skyscraper in the picture, which sounds hard enough. He wanted the phone number of the precise office where the photographer was standing when the picture was taken.

Nothing in that office was even in the photo. Yet in a few minutes, Russell, a research scientist at Google, revealed the answer by paying attention to small details and walking us through a series of smart Google searches.

Daniel Russell, research scientist for Google“Once you know these tricks, you can solve problems that look impossible,” Russell said.

There are plenty of Google search cheat sheets floating around. But it’s not often you get to hear advice directly from someone at Google who offers you his favorite search tools, methods and perspectives to help you find the impossible.

Here are some of my favorite tips shared by Russell at the 2012 Investigative Reporters and Editors conference. Some of these techniques are powerful but obscure; others are well-known but not fully understood by everyone.

Read more

Live-blogging the IRE 2012 Conference in Boston: Resources that will help you be a better investigative journalist

IRE 2012 Conference in BostonThe classic stereotype about journalists is that we’re all backstabbing vultures who would sell our mothers for a good story.

Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, we only sell our mothers for really, really good stories. But more importantly, we’re actually an amazingly friendly, collaborative bunch.

I’m in Boston where more than 1,000 people are trading tips, offering advice and learning from the best journalists around at this year’s Investigative Reporters and Editors conference.

This is the place to be if you’ve ever wondered, say, how Washington Post reporters figured out the complexities of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. You get to listen to the actual reporters who worked on the story. They’re essentially saying, “Here’s how we did it, and here are some tips we learned to help you work on the same kind of story.” It’s a goldmine for anyone who cares about journalism and wants to do it better.

Read more

Wrong-way crashes on San Antonio highways happen more often than you might think

A few months ago, my boss, Express-News Projects Editor David Sheppard, asked me to see what we could find out about wrong-way crashes on highways. It seemed like there were a lot of these deadly accidents in the news lately, and local officials had recently unveiled a $500,000 pilot project to install flashing wrong-way signs … Read more

Nickel and dimed: Find out which gas stations have faulty pumps that overcharge motorists

If you’ve ever suspected your neighborhood gas station is stiffing you at the pump, you might already know you can file a complaint with the Weights and Measures Program at the Texas Department of Agriculture. The agency’s inspectors verify the accuracy of gas pumps. But which stations rack up the most complaints, flunk the most … Read more

How two small-town reporters in Kentucky took down a corrupt sheriff

Journalists Adam Sulfridge and Samantha Swindler were both in their 20s and working for a small newspaper, the Times-Tribune in Whitley County, Kentucky, when they began investigating rumors about Sheriff Lawrence Hodge and his ties to drug dealers. Federal agents had investigated Hodge in the past but their inquiry fizzled. The sheriff was too insulated … Read more