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National Press

Paul Miller Fellows, 2019
Driving Impact With
Investigative Reporting
June 3, 2019
Mark Greenblatt
Sr. National Investigative
Correspondent, Newsy &
Scripps Washington Bureau

Behind the story: Case Cleared
Get Organized: Develop a FOIA Tracker
Transforming “no” to “yes” to receive data...
*Most cities initially denied our request, or asked for too much money. In Los Angeles County….

*We routinely pushed back, citing other agencies in the same state-- making sure to tell
agencies about what both larger and smaller entities charged for the same request.
Document records
Data records requests Talking to real people

Analyzing internal Using the case We used the

data to find numbers from the documents to
jurisdictions with internal data, we identify specific
suspicious requested police cases with repeat
exceptional reports and other offenders or other
clearance and documents for elements and
unfounded usage hundreds of cases reached out to
and identify specific in a subset of cities. survivors to learn
cases about their
Bringing the data to life- A case study in Austin
Building trust

*Get off the phone. We made time for face to face meetings with sources
despite the cost of a trip to Austin.
*Network. We asked everyone: Who else knows about this? Who else
should we talk to?
*Find common ground. In this case we connected with a key source because
of past reports in Texas and a love of the Boston Red Sox.
*BE HONEST: When we almost lost the interview, in four hours of
conversation, our key message was: you’re right to be nervous. They will
likely attack you. Now, let’s talk in real ways about how that will play out…
Landing the Chief, on camera
*Before asking for an interview, we asked the Austin police to check our math.
Their first response was in writing- confirming accuracy.
*For more than a month later, Austin police ignored multiple requests for an
interview. We went up the chain. (sharing initial written response from police).
*Within days, the interview with the chief was on.
Podcasts: A Chance To Tell The Story Behind the Story
Responsible Reporting Steps While Under Fire,
Or Under Threat From Those You’re Reporting On

• Jack Hetrick, Senior VA regional boss

• Threatened a lawsuit against Scripps if we aired
information about how the chief of staff at
a hospital he oversaw prescribed opioids
for his wife.
• Accused us of violating HIPAA (we did not)
Responsible Reporting Steps While Under Fire,
Or Under Threat From Those You’re Reporting On
Steps to take before publication:
1. Do NOT get overconfident
2. Do NOT panic
3. Bring any legal or ethical challenge immediately to your boss. Do a detailed
review of the language in your story, headlines, key takeaways. What is your
central story? Are you dead set certain you have it documented?
4. Even if you have the facts right– are you being fair? Lead this conversation with
your boss, your lawyer, your respected mentors and colleagues. Seek a diversity
of opinions.
5. When under fire, make decisions as an organization- not as an individual. This is
critical. It will mean your bosses will have your back and importantly- they’ll be
ready and willing to engage in the fight– vs. being surprised or caught off guard.
6. Seek additional official sources if necessary
7. If after all this, your story is solid– PUBLISH
Be transparent: Make the fight for answers **public**
A little more than 24 hours later…
Like a garden: Water Your
Sources, Regularly
• Some types of seeds “sprout” with good
stories fast. Some, take more cultivation over
• Just like plants, not all sources grow the same
• Before you plant – know what “type” of
source you’re cultivating– how much attention
they need, and the best type of environment
that specific type of source grows best in.
If you want to reap a
great harvest, develop
great habits (This may be
the most important slide
in this presentation)
*Think of source-building and FOIA filing as a
requirement of every week.
*Set actual specific goals for the number of
sources you are going to connect with and
the number of FOIAs you’ll file in a week or a
month. Write this goal down.
*WRITE DOWN your source / foia building
actions, every day. Track them.
Researchers have found “you become 42%
more likely to achieve your goals and
dreams, simply by writing them down…
Cell: 202-579-5475

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