August 2012 – Web Spotlight #1
This federal portal overflows with useful research and rich stories.
Many federal agencies are overseen by a watchdog division called the inspector general as a way to promote accountability and efficiency. More than 70 federal agencies are monitored by IG offices, which publish a steady stream of reports and investigations.
These reports are a schematic to finding documents and people, unraveling bureaucratic mazes and unearthing richly-sourced nuggets on most any topic. I sometimes randomly troll through the archive – there are thousands of reports – and look for story inspiration. It takes one sentence – no matter the topic of the report – to spark a story idea.
For the most part, IG offices welcome media contact and are very helpful. Of course, even the IG office can be fertile ground for stories, as detailed in this Washington Post opinion column.
Pick an agency that broadly covers your beat or interest. Cops and crime reporters might troll the U.S. Department of Justice (http://www.justice.gov/oig/). Health reporters will surely want to cruise through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (http://oig.hhs.gov/).
Many large newspapers troll IG reports for daily breaking stories, like this New York Times article. That’s great. But it’s not my mission. For me, IG reports are a hunting ground as I look for thematic issues or, perhaps, scout for micro angles.
Sometimes, you can find a national story lurking in overlooked reports, like this mini-project from the Chicago Tribune when I examined community policing programs with investigative reporter Gary Marx.
I often find story nuggets embedded within IG documents. It’s like panning for gold. Wade in, read as many reports as possible and eventually you’re going to strike gold.