|Journalists Brian Collister and John Tedesco discuss investigative reporting at this year's SPJ Region 8 conference at the Marriott Plaza in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Riley Stephens|
By Jordan Gass-Poore'
Nancy Drew and McGruff the Crime Dog don’t have anything on Brian Collister and John Tedesco, investigative reporters with ABC affiliate KTRK in Houston and the San Antonio Express-News, respectively.
Collister and Tedesco spoke to members at this year’s SPJ Region 8 conference at the Marriott Plaza in downtown San Antonio about their experiences in investigative reporting and tips for aspiring sleuths.
Whether it be the discovery of the mistreatment of funds by CPS Energy, or the hunt for the number of racehorse accidents, Collister and Tedesco agreed that although investigative reporting is an important public service, it can be difficult and time consuming.
But thinking like Henry Ford may be the catalyst for an investigative piece, whether the medium is electronic or print. Collister stressed an “assembly line” mindset, but to not follow the pack.
Ways to be a lone wolf include making friends with the information gatekeepers, which may include custodians and secretaries. Also, knowing how to navigate through the land of open records requests may prove to be beneficial in the search for the truth... and on deadline.
"You want them to respect you and to fear you," said Collister, referring to public officials who reporters may want to use as sources.
Time constraints and public officials can prove to be problematic when submitting open records requests.
"Half the battle is knowing where to find stuff," Collister said.
The other half may be knowing who to trust.
Collister stressed that the public information officer should not be considered a reporter's friend.
"Use good guys to find bad guys," he said. "But take (news) tips with a grain of salt."
To supplement his in-person reporting, Tedesco said he uses "creative" Google searches and utilizes online databases to learn an entity's jargon before requesting open records.
"Don't let data scare you," he said.
Tedesco stressed the importance of staying organized while working on an investigative piece. He said creating a notes template in Google Docs and keeping detailed to-do lists with time and date stamps through Microsoft Word have proved to be beneficial, especially if the story is reviewed by an attorney prior to publication.
For more information, Tedesco and Collister suggested visiting FOIFT.org.