Chapter 6 – Basic research tools
| “I spent weeks looking for the records of the former East German secret
service, the Stasi, trying to find out who the spies were in the UK. We looked through thousands and thousands of documents all marked ‘Streng Geheim’: top secret. We spent weeks looking and trying to decode the whole system – until we found out there was a book available in the bookshops that had done that already. In fact, this book even named some of the Stasi sources in the UK.” – Investigative journalist Stephen Grey.
- Use data management tools – either via computer software or a good secure filing system – to build up your paper trail and keep the detail of your investigation under control. Develop your CAR, profiling, paper trailing and data mining skills.
- If your country has Access to Information laws – use them.
- If your country does not yet have such laws, join the campaigns to secure them.
- Remember that by working with and through organisations in countries that do have such laws, you may be able to create a ‘back door’ to access information. Look for ways you can use numbers and statistics to strengthen even social and ideas-based stories.
- Look into numerical data to spot story ideas and angles.
- Master basic number skills.
- Always interrogate numbers and statistics to discover their source and how they were compiled.
- Always re-check figures – your own, and those supplied by others – to ensure that they have been calculated correctly.
- Remember statistics are compiled by human beings; they are not unquestionable and very rarely provide ‘proof’ on their own. Ask questions about numbers by means of short, closed, staged questions to ensure you get precise answers.
- Make numbers accessible for readers by rounding them or explaining them, but do not distort them when you put them into words.
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