The passing a few weeks ago of Tom Wicker saddened all of us interested in that particular flavor of journalism that relied equally on “being there” and sourcing the public records material you picked up along the way.Â As the journalism industry transforms itself in the Internet age (or is transformed by it), there is a temptation to declare the era of public records-based investigative journalism bygone.Â Reading the pieces we feature below, should give you a sense of the industry — thriving but limited by resources:
This piece from the San Francisco Chronicle is one of a number of Chronicle pieces on the September 2010 San Bruno pipeline blast, most featuring the byline of Jaxon Van Derbeken.Â All of the pieces rely heavily on public records content.Â This one, in particular, could change public records law as it highlights a 1951 statute that allows utilities to designate safety investigation records as confidential.
Also, take a look at these wonderful pieces by Sam Allen at the Los Angeles Times.Â In the first piece, Allen details how the Central Basin Water District Board of Directors approved a $200,000 public contract designed to generate good news about the District.Â In the second, Allen runs through the litany of public records he used in an attempt to find the author of the pieces paid for under the contract leaving the reader to conclude that the “author” probably doesn’t really exist.
Finally, a piece from Lance Williams and his colleagues at California Watch that used Medicare billing data to track potential “up-coding” (coding procedures under Medicare to maximize the available reimbursement) at a San Bernardino-based hospital.
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