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Monday, June 30, 2014

Investigating Institutions

"Investigating Powerful Institutions: Inside and Out" is 2-page handout by NYT reporter Matt Apuzzo, from the annual Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in San Francisco.  Its insights on written sources apply to opposition research.
Read: Read everything that’s been written. Do a Nexis search for your organization, going back at least five years. If you’re looking into a large organization – Pfizer, the CIA, General Electric – narrow your search with keywords: Pfizer and sales representatives. CIA and Russia. General Electric and medical devices. Select every story that is even remotely relevant. Sort chronologically. Save it to a PDF. Put it in on all your devices and read it whenever you have a
moment – on the subway, before bed, while you’re on hold, while you’re having coffee. As you read, write down all the names you come across. This is the public history of your organization.
Documents: Generally, there are two kinds of documents. Revelatory documents and roadmap documents. The key email, the internal report, the explosive audit: These are revelatory documents. They are the backbone of many a great story and many a great IRE panel (so much so that I won’t spend a ton of time here on all the great ways to find those documents). But as a strategy, always be thinking: Where would it be written down, who would have it, and what would that document be called? Everything is written down somewhere.
Roadmap documents are much less sexy, but just as important. Phone directories. Organizational charts. Annual reports. Legal opinions. Flow charts. Policy documents. (Even better, drafts of policy documents!). Look for places where your organization intersects with the government, and you’ll find public records there. Is it regulated? Does it have to file paperwork with the government? Does it receive state or federal money? Does it try to influence the government? Are its facilities inspected, its real properties taxed? What does it own? Does it invent things and seek patents?
One of my favorite sources of roadmap documents is lawsuits, because of all the discovery
documents – depositions, emails, etc. – that comes with them. Even if they aren’t at all related to what I’m investigating, they give me access points and help me understand the culture. I also love divorce records and bankruptcy records.