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Tips for finding and using data to fuel business investigations

By Tierra Smith

Two IRE speakers helped journalists find data for business stories during a session at the 2015 CAR Conference. Andrea Fuller and John Schoen offered tips on where to look and how to use information to build stronger stories.

Schoen, an economics reporter at CNBC Digital, said the key to using data in business journalism is to first look at the numbers without a hypothesis. The resulting story will reflect more of "what the data actual says instead of what we want it to say," Schoen said. 

Fuller, a member of the CAR team at The Wall Street Journal, broke business journalism in three categories: banks, corporate boards and financial filings. She then explained how to use different websites to find data for each topic.

"Our goal isn’t to tell people, 'Go do all these things right now,' but for them to know to where to go to get data," she said. 

Fuller said that journalists don’t need to know how to use every data set. Still, it’s good to know what exists and how it can help.

You can use the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority to investigate brokers in your community. FINRA collects data on brokers that may have black marks on their records.

Fuller mentioned traditional ways of finding information and then offered techniques for digging dipper. 

When dealing with corporate boards, you can use Form 990s and She suggests going a step further and using Capital IQ. This database allows you to look up all of the board memberships for one person. It also documents stock trends, company histories and links to SEC filings. The only bad news: It’s a paid service. 

Want to report on banks? Fuller explained the usefulness of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Summary of Deposits. It gives information on branches, locations and deposits.

Fuller also explained how to use "business-ish" data sources. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Medicare, and oil and gas industries are all nontraditional business topics that could lead to good business stories.

"It’s a way to investigate business by not using traditional business data," she said.

Get more tips by downloading Andrea Fuller’s tipsheet.


Tierra Smith is a 2015 CAR Conference Knight Scholar and senior at Grambling State University. She is studying mass communication with a concentration in sports journalism. She is also the editor-in-chief of The Gramblinite at GSU.

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