By Christopher Dolan, University of Scranton

From the art of the interview to “Facebook creeping,” we learned many invaluable investigative tools at IRE’s Scranton Watchdog Workshop.

During the day-long event, various expert investigative journalists taught the tricks and techniques needed when hunting down a good story.

Tisha Thompson from WRC-Washington had many tips for crafting a strong interview during her one-hour presentation. Ms. Thompson drew from her experience in the field to outline how journalists should handle their various interviewees—detailing how a journalist should interact with victims, criminals and everyone in between. Ms. Thompson said when interviewing both “bad guys” and victims, she always makes sure to ask a question to get her interviewee fired up. I decided to try this technique myself, and like Ms. Thompson said, it always results in a passionate response that makes a great quote or sound byte. Ms. Thompson’s presentation taught me that it is possible to ask the tough questions while still being respectful to the interviewee.

In his presentation on records searches, IRE’s Mark Horvit taught us that much of the information an investigative journalist needs is out there on the internet—we just need to know where to look for it. Mr. Horvit had many tips for searching public records to locate a source’s contact information. Mr. Horvit’s presentation revealed that an “unlisted number” is not too hard to find, and that simple government forms—even dog license forms—can be invaluable tools to find the phone number or address of a source. Mr. Horvit also spoke of the value of flight records, store rewards program applications and Google’s sometimes hidden advanced search feature.

It was fascinating to learn about the many resources we have to track down sources. In addition to public records searches, social media can be a valuable resource when trying to locate and background sources. During his social media presentation, Doug Haddix of The Kiplinger Program introduced the audience to many obscure websites that can be used to both locate individuals on social media and search through their posts. With these tools, an investigative journalist can background someone in seconds using information posted on sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

I know my interviewing and investigative skills will improve with the new tips and tricks I learned at the Scranton Watchdog Workshop. The techniques I learned from IRE are things that cannot be found in a textbook—these are tricks that only seasoned investigative reporters would know. IRE’s Watchdog Workshop certainly gives attending journalists a leg up on the competition.