Mar 17, 2019

How to find stories - New and improved edition

This is the "new and improved" edition of How to Find Stories, with clean links as of March 2019. All of this information is publicly available, mostly for free. 
There are so many sources on this list I've created subheadings to keep it all organized. I'm always looking for new resources, so please share yours with me. 
"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, Nobel laureate

What are people saying? 


  • 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. 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"). But be careful, because what you see on Twitter isn't necessarily reflective of what the public thinks. According to Twitter's own numbers, as of March 2018 about 15-million Canadians were on Twitter. About 44 per cent of those people checked it multiple times a day. If you do the math, that's only 6.6-million active users (roughly 18 per cent of the Canadian population). 
  • Check blogs. Look especially for active ones from neighbourhood associations, business groups, etc. Bookmark them for future reference. 


What is the competition doing? 


  • Keep an eye on media outlets: CBC, the Chronicle Herald, the Globe, Metro, CTV, Global, Rogers 95.7, The Coast, allnovascotia.com, the Halifax Examiner, Haligonia.ca. 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.  Kukukwes.com 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 and The Objective News Agency are Facebook sites for news by and about the Black Nova Scotian community. Dakai Maritimes is a Halifax-run, Chinese language newspaper and Eclife.ca 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. Consider media such as the Nova Scotia Advocate or the (sadly now gone) publication that advocated for the homeless, Street Feat. 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. 
  • If you have access to newswires such as the Canadian Press, check them. 


Quasi-governmental 


  • Look at the listings of federalprovincial and municipal tenders. Try neighbouring provinces as well. 
  • 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
  • Check today's CRTC decisions.   
  • When Nova Scotia had school boards, many story ideas could be gleaned from the board meeting agendas and minutes. We no longer have English school boards but there is still the French CSAP board, which continues to post its minutes (procès-verbaux), agenda (l'ordre du jour), and a summary of the last meeting (résumé de la dernière rencontre). There are also links to the dates of the next meetings, the internal governance rules of the board, and important documents like their strategic plan and budget. 


Municipal governments and related



Provincial government and related


  • 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. 
  • Here is a quick way to see which provincial government regulations have been added or updated recently. Go to the List of Regulations by Act and do a page search by month i.e. January, February, March, etc. You will quickly jump to which acts have recently been updated listed in red, by date, and sometimes with a link to a PDF that outlines the changes.
  • Say you want to know how much the provincial government spent at a specific business in a year, or how much a specific civil servant is paid. Go to the Public Accounts website. Filter the results by "supplementary information."
  • The office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner posts publicly issued reports. 
  • It is always worthwhile to look at the titles of fulfilled provincial FOIPOP requests (freedom of information and protection of privacy), and sometimes worthwhile reading the full release packages! Related: also check the corresponding federal site of fulfilled ATIP (access to information) requests.  

Courts 


  • 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. 
  • See what is coming up on the dockets for the various divisions of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court around the province, and at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal
  • To see what is filed at court but not yet ready for a hearing, you can look at the Nova Scotia Supreme Court listings. I used to muck around in there every day when working for allnovascotia.com. 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 paper list of court cases filed each week. The binder for civil cases is updated on Thursdays. There's also 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. If you are good at recognizing names and companies you might be able to find something significant. 
  • You can see news releases from the Supreme Court of Canada here. The site gives judgements rendered, a heads-up on which judgements will be rendered, appeals which have been heard, and appeals which will be heard. Check the list for cases that touch on your region. 
  • 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 or military issues. 
  • The Tax Court of Canada deals with companies and individuals who have tax disputes with the federal government. According to its website, most appeals deal with "income tax, goods and services tax, and employment insurance."
  • 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. 

Business and Community 


  • 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, I often 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. 
  • 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. 
  • Cision and Marketwire contain press releases. Mostly company product announcements but sometimes other things too. 
  • The Halifax Chamber of Commerce has a calendar of upcoming events. So does the Cape Breton Chamber of Commerce. There may be others you find useful; don't forget about small towns and rural areas such as the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce
  • Think about attending the annual general meetings of organizations that interest you. Sometimes there's a lot of news that comes out of them, such as the year a motion at Halifax Pride's annual general meeting made national headlines. 
  • 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."
  • It can be worthwhile to check university newspapers such as the Dalhousie GazetteSlightly different but also produced by students (sometimes students that I teach!) try the University of King's College Journalism publication the Signal
  • Eastlink Community TV seems to focus on grassroots programming made by regular people, which is always a good place to start. 


Transportation




Miscellaneous 



  • Lately I've been trying something new: I've set a Google Scholar alert to email me summaries of papers that have been published in peer-reviewed papers and which also reference the words "halifax, nova scotia." My working theory is that most journalists are not spending their time reading academic journals, but in a university town like Halifax, we probably should. 
  • 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.)
  • A good resource is the environmental assessments filed with the province. You can see all projects, projects under review, and completed reviews. As of March 2019 you can also see compliance and enforcement action, including fines. 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. 
  • 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 companies. EDGAR is the equivalent American resource. 
  • 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.
  • 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. Upon request, the board staff will send documents relating to parole board decisions, many of which review facts in an offender's case history. 
  • Here are some tips from a CBC research course I took: 
    • Genealogy sites such as ancestry.com or rootsweb.com 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 www.bop.gov on the Inmate Locator tab. 
    • For MPs, federal political parties or party leadership candidates, the best place to look for contributions and expenses is www.elections.ca on the Political Financing tab. The National Post also compiled a useful database of political donations which is more user-friendly than the Elections Canada site. 
    • A gateway to public record databases in the U.S. is www.searchsystems.net 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 www.carfax.com (US) or www.carproof.com (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. I did this one year and found it was moderately helpful in finding people and learning about their job history. 
  • 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. 
  • Latif Nasser, the director of research for the fantastic podcast and WNYC program Radiolab shares some of his story finding tips here


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