By Doug Haddix, IRE training director

Reporters should make one to three calls a day to sources whom they don’t need for a deadline story. That’s the most effective way to develop sources who’ll come through for you later with ideas and help, according to Ryan Gabrielson of California Watch. Gabrielson spoke during an IRE Better Watchdog Workshop last weekend at San Francisco State University. He covers public safety issues at California Watch, a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. While working at the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., he and reporting partner Paul Giblin won a Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting in 2009. Gabrielson offered tips for bolstering local reporting, including:

  • Track tax dollars by getting an electronic log of active contracts for agencies and offices that you cover. Then use state business filings to locate the people behind the partnerships or corporations. After that, examine financial disclosure forms of politicians to look for links to personal gain from public money.
  • Beyond basic salary information for public officials, seek out documents and records that show all forms of compensation, along with any special service contracts for side jobs.
  • If possible, get the auditors’ working papers and correspondence that are produced during an agency audit. Those documents often provide critical details for understanding the full audit report.
  • Routinely request calendars and e-mails of top officials to monitor their appointments and correspondence.
  • Check IRS 990 forms filed by tax-exempt organizations for ties between government officials and nonprofits.