!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: 21st Century Journalism XXVII: Digging for Business Info

Saturday, June 14, 2008

21st Century Journalism XXVII: Digging for Business Info

At the website of the Society of Professional Journalists, Glenn Lewin, a freelance writer, reporter, and researcher, provides a detailed list of tips (here condensed and slightly edited) for gathering information about a particular business enterprise:
  1. Work from the outside in, peeling back the “layers of the onion.” "The most solid and reliable information is obtained (and verified) through a variety of sources."

  2. Conduct documents and public records searches. I.e., check out past litigation, property records, etc.

  3. Develop multiple sources within the target company. "Constantly look for fresh sources; it’s a mistake to continually tap the same sources. ... Know who in the organization has information, and what information they have."

  4. Seek information sources from outside the company, such as headhunters, industry consultants, and former employees (especially people from the sales and marketing departments).

  5. Become familiar with the company’s physical location and business activity. "If, for example, the business claims to be a distributor, but operates out of a small office, is it really just a mail-drop operation posing as a stocking distributor?"

  6. Generate referrals — both from inside and outside the company. "Managers [and] key decision-makers are often more accessible if approached with a referral."

  7. Employ investigative interviewing techniques. E.g.: "Build bridges by looking for people and interests you may have in common ... Stay alert for information that doesn’t seem to fit or to make sense..."

  8. Leverage information / trade information. "... use what you know to obtain still more information. Understand that information is not a one-way street. Be willing to share information with your sources; [this] creates trust, costs nothing, and demonstrates that you are thinking of their needs as well as your own."

  9. Know who your target company does business with. "Important information may be obtained from the customers and vendors ..."

  10. Adopt and maintain the proper attitude. "The best investigators are open-minded, diligent, thorough, creative and — above all — persistent."
Having watched with a good deal of dismay the poor use of sources that seems endemic in today's journalism, I would particularly echo Lewin's insistence on tapping a variety of sources, and constantly developing new sources. This advice, which I'd supplement by noting that becoming too buddy-buddy with official sources detracts from one's journalistic independence, applies to all beats, not just business.