From the Field

How to dig like an investigative reporter

By October 10, 2009March 19th, 2015One Comment

Seattle Times Investigations Editor James Neff and King 5 Investigative Reporter Susannah Frame spoke at Seattle U’s “Future of News” Conference on October 10.  They shared some basic tips/websites for digging up information that I thought I’d pass along:

Washington Courts:

“If I had one tool, and that’s all you get, it’s this one:  name search, company search, it will pick up all the court dockets in our state – superior courts, lawsuits, felony indictments, DWIs, you name it.”

Sound Politics Washington State Voter Database:

You can find date of birth on this one: Can search y address or by name. (Date of birth help id correct criminal records)

King County Library database:

Here you can access Factiva – Dow Jones, WSJ — and Proquest for Washington newsrooms and little papers around here. Frame said, “This allows you to check if it’s been done here, or look into other things about the company or person. It’s ok if the story has been done in other market because it can give you ideas.”

Criminal Searches

Google registered sex offenders and state name to get mug shots of people (if not online, you can email the organization and they will share the photo with you.)

Washington state sex offenders:

King County Recorder’s Office

From their website: “Since 1853, the Recorder’s Office has maintained a record of all real estate transactions, marriage records and other documents submitted for public record.”  Frame: “You can find people who are flipping houses, how much they bought them for, how much they sold them for.”

Business Records: State Department of Revenue


You can get UBI number, and then enter it into the Department of Licensing License Query System to see if the business is active, then you can get names of the company principals, and from there you can go into civil lawsuits and find other information.

Business and Professional Licenses

Department of Licensing License Query System

Washington State Department of Financial Institutions:

And this was a student recommendation that I like (be careful to vet the information that you get):

From their website:

“Welcome to SourceWatch—your guide to the names behind the news. SourceWatch is a collaborative project of the Center for Media and Democracy to produce a directory of the people, organizations and issues shaping the public agenda. A primary purpose of SourceWatch is documenting the PR and propaganda activities of public relations firms and public relations professionals engaged in managing and manipulating public perception, opinion and policy. SourceWatch also includes profiles on think tanks, industry-funded organizations and industry-friendly experts that work to influence public opinion and public policy on behalf of corporations, governments and special interests. Over time, SourceWatch has broadened to include others involved in public debates including media outlets, journalists, government agencies, activists and nongovernmental organizations. Unlike some other wikis, SourceWatch has a policy of strict referencing, and is overseen by a paid editor. SourceWatch has 47,028 articles.”

Washington state Campaign Contributions

Public records: a citizen-compiled database of state salaries

When you’re just starting a search for someone, don’t forget Google, and

My new favorite social media site information aggregator: (searches social networks, blogs)

Go there and check it out.  You may want to enter your own name to see what kind of information you’ve floated out in the ether.

And finally, to get an idea of what kind of information has already been released by government agencies in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, another citizen-compiled site:

From their website:

“ provides electronic copies of hundreds of interesting Federal Government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.  Fascinating historical documents, reports on items in the news, oddities and fun stuff and government bloopers, they’re all here.  Think of browsing this site as rummaging through the Government’s Attic — hence our name.”


Happy Digging!

-Kristen Young

One Comment

  • GREAT post. Will share. A few here I hadn’t heard of so it’s helpful for us too. Court info and voters’ database in particular are sites I hit multiple times daily. Thank you for taking the time to share all this.

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