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Covering the economic crisis

Ron Nixon, The New York Times

Several Web sites and documents can help journalists track federal stimulus spending and the ongoing economic turmoil, according to Ron Nixon, a reporter for The New York Times.

Taxpayers for Common Sense aims to provide more transparency in government spending. USA Spending is the federal government’s site for tracking all federal contracts, grants and awards. Another site,, highlights what public companies try to downplay in footnotes of their filings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC offers a “Beginners’ Guide to Financial Statements.” Nixon also recommended an online booklet from Merrill Lynch on “How to Read a Financial Report.”

Nixon was among six speakers at a Better Watchdog Workshop at Kent State University earlier this month in northeastern Ohio. The event attracted more than 80 students, faculty and journalists.

Jill Riepenhoff, a reporter at The Columbus Dispatch, demonstrated how to track federally backed mortgages and defaults on Neighborhood Watch, an interactive online database operated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD’s early warning system is designed to flag lenders with abnormally high default rates on government-backed mortgages.

David Donald, data editor for the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., explained that Google indexes an estimated 10 percent of what’s available on the Internet. So, journalists should dive deeper and explore the Deep Web -– areas that Google and other search engines cannot access. Complete Planet is a helpful starting point.

Two broadcast journalists offered tips on interviewing and juggling multiple stories. Kathleen Johnston, a senior investigative producer at CNN in Atlanta, told the group that sometimes the direct approach is best, especially if time is limited. “There’s nothing wrong with starting out tough -– cut to the chase,” she said. Duane Pohlman, an investigative reporter for WEWS-TV in Cleveland, encouraged journalists to be active listeners during interviews. “Stop your internal dialogue” and hear exactly what your subject is saying so that you’ll be nimble with follow-up questions.

— Doug Haddix, IRE training director

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