May 13, 2014

How to find stories


I originally started "How to find stories" because I needed a place to keep my links. Since then it has been circulated in the newsroom, and it's even being used in the journalism schools. I'm surprised but pleased that it's helping other people. I want it to stay useful, so I've cleaned up the links and I'll keep adding to it. 

Bookmark this page, or access it in a link from a sidebar on the blog. Please keep emailing or tweeting me suggestions and I'll update the list again in time. 

-Go to neighbourhood meetings and talk to people. This should be the best way to get good stories, but it's time-consuming and probably the most ignored. When I'm feeling civic-minded I'll go to a meeting in the evening. Sometimes people there say something gold...sometimes I doodle for two straight hours. 

-Go to places where people gather: coffee shops, public meetings, protests, open houses, community centres, the local convenience store, libraries, the medical clinic. Talk to people there. Look at the notices in the windows. 

-Read constantly. Read the newsletters that come in your mailbox from local businesses. Read your municipal councillor's message to the community. Read bulletin boards. Read everything with words on it. 

-Check Facebook. What are your friends saying, protesting about, attending, getting angry about? Check on the Facebook pages of local politicians - often people complain publicly to their local councillor or MLA on Facebook, and those people may sometimes be willing to complain to the media as well. Check all levels of government: your MP, councillor or MLA's website or Facebook group. 

-Check Twitter. What's the buzz? Location-based tweets are getting more and more specific. What's trending in your area? Try checking lists other than your own home page. Many people curate public lists based on region or interest ("Fab from Nova Scotia" or "Local writers"). Engage and ask questions. Reply to comments. 

-Check blogs. Everyone from neighbourhood associations to business groups are starting blogs and posting their issues online. 

-Keep an eye on media outlets: CBC, the Chronicle Herald, the Globe, Metro, CTV, Global, Rogers 95.7, The Coast,, the Halifax Examiner, Make sure to include the small town papers and the even smaller neighbourhood newspapers (keep a particular eye out for independents, like the Chebucto News, the Trident, the Masthead, the North Dartmouth Echo). You can even try the gossip papers. It can be hard to repurpose ideas locally from the international media, but read a variety of sources anyway.

-Make sure you do not ignore media written in a language other than English, or media produced by minority groups. CBC's Radio-Canada French language service often focuses on different stories from the English network. The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network has a Halifax based reporter, Trina Roche. is a website covering independent Aboriginal news in Atlantic Canada, run by journalist Maureen Googoo. Touch Base is a newspaper for immigrant communities in Halifax. Black Nova Scotian News is a Facebook site for news by and about the Black Nova Scotian community. Dakai Maritimes is a Halifax-run, Chinese language newspaper and is a messageboard site for Halifax's Chinese community. Google Translate can help you overcome language barriers. And don't forget non-English radio stations, which are often a unifying force in a minority community. 

-When you're in a coffee shop, have a skim through alternative media like student newspapers and organizations like the Halifax Media Co-Op. Tune the car or kitchen radio to community radio stations like CKDU 88.1, Seaside 105.9, or Radio Halifax Metro (French) 98.5 once in a while. 

-Say 'yes' to being put on mailing lists and let people know that they should feel free to email you upcoming events. Don't say yes to all of them because that can be overwhelming, but it's not bad to be on a few lists if you've found them useful in the past. 

-Look at the listings of federalprovincial and municipal tenders. Try neighbouring provinces as well. 

-If you have access to newswires such as the Canadian Press, check them. 

-Government grants can make for good stories, like the federal government's disclosure of ACOA grants 

-Check the Utility and Review board's new decisions. Check out both what's recently been decided, and what's coming up for a hearing

-The Nova Scotia courts have a searchable decisions database online. Be aware there's sometimes a delay between the release of a decision and when it appears online. Members of the media can opt to receive decisions online, and everyone can receive notifications of decisions on Twitter. 

-The provincial government puts out the Royal Gazette of its activities in two parts. Part I is the Province's official weekly government record of proclamations and other statutory notices. Part II is all regulations filed with the Registry of Regulations. The Canada Gazette is the same thing, but federal. 

-The city of Halifax has a planning website that breaks down building proposals and developments. Also on the city website, you can find the past and upcoming agendas and videos from Regional Council, the six community councils, and city standing committees. A huge help is the HRM Event Calendar

-Events listings such as those on Kijiji's community page are sometimes the start of a place to find a story idea. SNAP Halifax also has an Event Calendar, and so do many private radio stations like Big Dog in Truro and stations like 89.9 the Wave in Halifax.

-All registered charities are required to submit their financial information to the federal government. They're visible here.

-Set a timer. When something significant happens, run to your smartphone and make a calendar reminder to check back on it. Maybe the head of the organization said he or she would have more information coming next week. Maybe a report on the cause of the accident will be released in two months. Maybe the 20th anniversary of Westray is coming up next year. Don't forget to check back. 

-Check today's CRTC decisions.   

-Think about what kinds of business sectors are common in this area. Industry news sites like the Seafood News and Trade Winds News could be very helpful. 

-The Halifax Regional School Board has a regular board meeting once a month. Agendas are posted here. Also check the minutes from the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, the Strait Regional School Board, the South Shore Regional School Board, the Tri-County Regional School Board, and the French CSAP.  

-Go look at the Nova Scotia Supreme Court listings. I used to muck around in there every day when working for If you go down to the Supreme Court, there's an office on the main level. In the office there's a binder that anyone can look at where the staff put a list of court cases that were freshly filed yesterday. There's a binder for civil cases and a binder for probate cases. You will only see the names of both parties in the case; if you want to look at the actual documents, you have to pay a fee to get the file. It's a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack, but if you are good at recognizing names and companies you might be able to find something significant. 

-The Federal Court of Canada listings of local hearings is also interesting to look at, although there's no info online beyond the names of the parties. Federal court involves matters governed by federal law, e.g. immigration. 

-Building on court stuff, the Tax Court of Canada is exactly what it sounds like. According to its website, most appeals deal with "income tax, goods and services tax, and employment insurance."

-CNW Newswire and Marketwire contain press releases. Mostly company product announcements but sometimes other things too. 

-The Civil Aviation Daily Occurrence Reporting System or CADORS national report is the federally-run database of incidents involving Canadian aircraft or airspace across the country. You occasionally see things like a runway closed because a plane hit a bald eagle. The CADORS report is updated if an investigation leads to more information. So you could check back on past incidents. 

-Speaking of aviation, check the Transportation and Safety Board of Canada's news releases.

-You can try message boards like reddit (keywords: Halifax, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia). 

-This tip via Alison Delorey (@aldelory on Twitter): "I'd also suggest that if you write for a lot of trade or b2b publications that you stay on top of industry news and events like regional or national meetings or AGMs. Also think about "honoured" days both obvious (Earth Day) and lesser known (World School Milk Day) and think about connecting story pitches to those events."

-From Jon Tattrie (@jontattrie): "I often check sites like Dal News for stories. They do them as the official voice of the organization, of course, but often there is something that can be re-spun into a story or a feature."

-For more university news, try and the University of King's College Journalism publications

-A good resource is the environmental assessments filed with the province. You can see all projects, projects under review, and completed reviews. You can also sign up for email updates on new projects and ministerial decisions. See also the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry, a searchable database of environmental assessments that pertain to federal departments or federal legislation. The explanations on the CEAR are very detailed and helpful. 

-The environment affects us all, and the ocean particularly affects the Maritime provinces. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a US-based agency, but its findings are relevant to the whole ocean. 

-The Canadian Legal Information Institute is great for finding legal decisions. It has a wider scope than the Courts of Nova Scotia website because in addition to the courts decisions, it includes legislation (statutes and regulations), and decisions from boards (labour, privacy, human rights, discipline, and securities) for all provinces and territories. This is useful for labour arbitration decisions, human rights rulings, etc. 

-SEDAR is the System for Electronic Document Analysis and Retrieval. This is the place where you can find a lot of Canadian securities information, such as the financial statements of publicly traded companiesEDGAR is the equivalent American resource. 

-The Notice to Mariners is put out every month by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, together with the Coast Guard. It has updated nautical chart corrections and safety announcements. In a coastal province like Nova Scotia this can be important. 

-Other resources for marine stories include Canada's Vessel Registration System, and, which shows some (but not all) ships in the area. 

-The RCMP and Halifax Regional Police put news releases on their websites. There is also the daily police report from the HRP. You can sign up to receive these notices by email. 

-Property Valuation Services Corporation is a database run by the body that assesses property values in Nova Scotia. That value is used by municipalities in calculating taxes. It has maps of the property lines and assessed values dating back ten years. But assessed value is not the same as a sale price - this is not what the home is "worth."  

-Property Online is a very useful subscriber-based website from Service Nova Scotia, showing who owns what land in the province. See maps, surveyors descriptions, names and addresses of property owners and the dates the land changed ownership, and even scanned copies of the deed. There is a fee to use the service, and it is not cheap. You must sign a user agreement that takes 10 days to process in order to use at home, but I've been told if you're in a hurry you can go to one of the office locations. In a similar vein, you can pay to use the NS Lien Check on property such as motor vehicle, trailer, mobile home, airplane, boat, or outboard motor.

-If you want a country's worth of news releases, check the Government of Canada site. Narrow by region, etc. 

-If you want a province-worth of news releases, check the Communications Nova Scotia portal. 

-The Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stocks is a great place to find out more about any registered business in the province. Find out who owns a business and what businesses are related to it.

-Here's a link to an excellent web page chock-full of tips on reporting methods from a Carleton University journalism graduate class by CP's Jim Bronskill and CBC's David McKie.

-If you need an old version of a website or something that has been taken off the Internet, you could try Cached Pages or the Wayback Machine

-If you're really bored, try different versions of Google searches. Google offers a news search, and a blog search. You could also try typing in the names of smaller towns such as "Lunenburg," "Bridgewater," etc. and do a search by date. Maybe someone is talking about them recently online. 

-We recently did a whole CBC story on the department of agriculture's food inspection reports.

-For crime reporting, consider the Parole Board of Canada

Here are some tips from a CBC research course I took: 

-Genealogy sites such as or have valuable searchable databases for establishing family relationships. Rootsweb is free and has an obituary index with good coverage of Canada.

-Full digital versions of newspaper databases are valuable in searching for births, deaths, weddings, and other announcements that help establish family relationships. These are available at public libraries or university libraries.

-You can check any personal or corporate bankruptcy going back to 1978, and all receiverships going back to 1993, at Industry Canada's site. There is a fee of $8 per search. You'll have to register for an account. 

-U.S. jail records: you can find the location of an inmate or former inmate in a federal prison from 1982 to the present at on the Inmate Locator tab. 

-For MPs, federal political parties or party leadership candidates, the best place to look for contributions and expenses is on the Political Financing tab.

-A gateway to public record databases in the U.S. is this also provides good gateways to Canadian provinces and other countries around the world (I hope you will recognize some links from my list!)

-Aircraft can be searched at Transport Canada's Canadian Civil Aircraft Register

-Car histories are available for a fee at (US) or (Canada)

-Information on federally-incorporated companies such as address and directors (must be requested) can be found at Corporations Canada

-LinkedIn can be a valuable resource, and journalists who do a half-hour orientation session can be upgraded to a premium account for free for one year. Yumi Wilson conducts regular training sessions on how to use the service for journalists. She was very accommodating about my schedule, too. I did this last year and found it was moderately helpful in finding people and learning about their job history. 

Some professions have regulatory bodies, and these regulatory bodies are responsible for disciplinary decisions on complaints against their members. These are often posted publicly. Examples include the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the College of Pharmacists, the Provincial Dental Board of Nova ScotiaCollege of Licensed Practical Nurses of Nova ScotiaCollege of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia

There are many other professional medical associations. Some have disciplinary powers and some don't. Some post decisions, and some don't. The College of Occupational Therapists of Nova Scotia helpfully provided a list of some bodies

-As of August 2015, the Nova Scotia government is putting a summary of ministerial expenses online.

-Use the Routine Access policy in Halifax and in provincial government departments to your advantage for many types of information, described in their routine disclosure policy. 

-Check the news releases from the Supreme Court of Canada for judgements rendered, a heads up on which judgements will soon be rendered, appeals heard, and appeals to be heard. Check the list for cases which touch on your region. 

-Most importantly...keep your eyes and ears open. 

"If you want to have good ideas you must have many ideas. Most of them will be wrong, and what you have to learn is which ones to throw away."

- Attributed to Dr. Linus Pauling (American theoretical chemist and biologist, 1901-1994)

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