Investigations are sometimes called regular stories with a lot more research involved. It takes time to collect data, analyze it, verify sources and piece together a good story. And you can’t afford to make a mistake unless you want to risk being labeled poor quality or fake news. Fortunately, there are many tools available that make the investigation much easier than it would otherwise be. Here are 7 tools all investigative journalists should be using.
OpenRefine is an open-source tool. It is great for cleaning up and organizing massive datasets. Then you can clean up data pulled from various databases and combine it into one, shareable database.
For example, conflicting address formats and misspelled names can prevent data from being properly correlated unless cleaned up. Codes and references within a database may allow you to identify businesses hiding their misbehavior by changing their name without moving to a new address, too.
While this requires some work, you have an invaluable resource when you’re done putting it all together, and you can share it online. This allows you to give your readers the ability to mine data, whether it is the location of businesses hit by crime to medical professionals sued for malpractice.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and an infographic or other data visualization can make the point of your article clearer to readers. Datawrapper lets you create all kinds of charts, diagrams, and maps. We mention this tool because it can handle a massive amount of information.
Public Information Sites
The Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, required the federal government to make massive amounts of information public. This includes but isn’t limited to lawsuits and other legal records, arrest records, lien amounts, alias records and judgment records.
Note that you can’t just call up the courthouse and demand this information, as there are specific procedures in place. One method is to write a letter to the proper federal agency and request the records, describing what you need. The problems with this range from the amount of time it takes to the risk that they don’t have it. And the data you need may actually be in state-level systems, though that may be accessible through state versions of the FOIA.
You can then use the information in these documents and conduct a more thorough search by using background check sites. If you want to know how it works, follow these guidelines to perform public records search on people named in various government databases. Just add some of their personal information, and you’ll be able to misdemeanors, prior lawsuits, and even their contact information.
Company Information Extractor
Another tool you can use is Dato Capital’s Company Information Extractor. You can use this tool to scan for company information quickly. Enter the company name, director names and other information, and it can provide information about several million registered entities around the world. You can also upload a website address or upload a file, and it can pull data from that file and show you the matches.
You can take things to the next level by searching Offshore Leaks Database. This database was created by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. They collect information on more than half a million people and companies of importance.
Linkurious is a tool for investigating the links between various organizations. You can search for a company and see all of the relationships between it and other entities, and you can sort through all the documents associated with each. You can create data visualizations and charts from data sets stored in the system, too. This could give you some valuable information you can follow up on, and could be very helpful to get interviews as well.
Klaxon is a tool to monitor websites and online data files for any newsworthy changes. You could be sent an email or Slack notification if something changes. It is free to start, but heavy usage comes at a cost.
Evernote is an excellent tool for organizing the massive number of notes and files you’ve collected during your investigation. You can capture information by snapping photos or scanning files and saving it to Evernote. Add notes that help you to find it later or document your thoughts at the time so you don’t lose leads. Both the app and the PC version allow you to scan for images or text, so you can find information quickly from the tens of thousands of notes saved to your account.
Investigative reporters have to collect, manage and analyze masses of information to find and verify their stories. We’ve shared a number of tools that help you do this with as little time and effort as possible.