Joyce Terhaar

Investigative coverage starts with tipster who takes risk, makes time

Sacramento’s public scrutiny of the death of Joseph Mann came about largely because one private citizen agreed to give The Bee a copy of a surveillance video.

The Bee relies every day on people like this source to share information with us. Private citizens, public policy experts, community activists, professionals and a great many others take time to respond to one of our reporters or to leak information so we can inform the broader community.

Investigative stories often start with tips from people who know something that concerns them. They count on us to report and verify. For instance, a former Cal Fire cadet told us about widespread cheating and other problems at that state firefighting agency, concerns that became part of a Bee investigative series.

We heard from a woman who had worked with Courage House, a nonprofit group home established to rescue girls from sex trafficking, who shared concerns about how the facility was operating. Our reporting showed the group continued to raise money after the local group home was closed.

A state employee tipped us to the $118,000 price tag of new designer office furniture for Board of Equalization member Jerome Horton, which became part of a bigger story about lack of purchasing controls at the BOE.

And many people stepped up with tips about UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, who resigned after Bee stories revealed she hired outside consultants at university expense to enhance her image. The internal investigation launched by our coverage found she also violated university policies for her paid work on corporate boards and in how she filed travel expenses.

To all of these sources, and many others: Thank you. We are a better newspaper because you took a risk or made the time to tip us. And to everyone else who wonders why the media is not covering an issue you find important, I’d like to encourage you to contact us.

While much is changing in the news business, reporters still need sources and newsrooms still need to be connected to their communities. Some relationships will be developed the old-fashioned way – through interviews and phone calls or by covering news events. But we’re also getting new tools from emerging technology to better connect publishing companies and community members, in the end creating more relevant and trusted journalism.

The Trust Project, for instance, is using expertise from universities, media and technology companies to develop an online indicator intended to signal whether a news operation is trustworthy. If, like me, you are frustrated when supposed news sites don’t disclose who owns them or creates the stories, you might welcome an indicator.

The Trust Project is funded by Craig Newmark, the founder of craigslist, and Google, and it is supported by the Markkula Foundation. McClatchy is one of many media companies participating. Done right, an indicator would help you know whether news coverage relies upon expert and relevant sources – and whether those involved listen to public reaction to their coverage and work to answer questions raised by the public.

We routinely provide information intended to make it easy to react to our coverage or provide more information. Reporter emails, phone numbers and social media accounts are included on every story. Phone numbers and emails of top executives are published daily in the newspaper and always are online.

About 18 months ago we tackled the trollish atmosphere of our online commenting to create a safe place for readers to offer meaningful information tied to our coverage. We required commenters to use real names, and we set ground rules for civil conversation. Since then our commenting community has grown almost five-fold and you can read the give-and-take without needing an antacid.

In print and online we provide space for a wealth of public policy experts, activists, academics and others to take on The Bee’s reporting or opinions, or simply add to the public conversation about current issues.

We are on Facebook and Twitter and other social media in ways that encourage readers to raise questions about stories or opine. We’ve sponsored forums and events to facilitate community and policy discussions. Reporters have held meet-ups to develop more sourcing. We are using technology used by members of the community – such as the WeChat app – to deepen our sourcing.

What else should we be doing? Send me an email, or contact one of our journalists, to let us know. And don’t forget to share a tip.