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Tracking documents on your beat

Chastity Pratt Dawsey of the Detroit Free Press

By Doug Haddix

IRE training director

Each year, education reporter Chastity Pratt Dawsey of the Detroit Free Press files public records requests for five documents on her beat. She requests other records and data as story ideas emerge but makes sure that her sources know they need to produce key information regularly for her. Her advice came during an Ethnic Media Watchdog Workshop in Detroit.

Here are Dawsey’s five key education documents:

  • Expenditure reports, which show how the Detroit school district is spending its money.
  • Personnel database, which lists names, titles, pay and other key information about district employees.
  • Annual report for the school district, which provides an overview of what the district accomplished and its plans for the coming years.
  • Annual audit, which dissects the district’s finances.
  • Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which gives details not found in other budget documents.

Reporters on other beats should consider which documents they need to be effective watchdogs and make sure to request them regularly, Dawsey told the group at Wayne State University.

Documents and data are “how you make the story richer and watch out for taxpayer dollars,” she said.


Editor's note: Don't forget to check out IRE's tipsheet database for more tips on covering education including documents, data and story ideas.


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