October 14, 2014

The right source can make a huge difference – between a good and great story.  Honing people-finding research skills will make you a better reporter.  Let’s take a look at this piece by Metro reporter, Rachel Swarms at The New York Times.  She reported on the death of a woman who died in her car.  In this articleSwarms talks about how ‘getting the story wasn’t easy.


Reference USA  

  • U.S. Standard White Pages: searches all phone listings. Updated annually
  • U.S. New Movers/Homeowners: searches forwarding addresses supplied to U.S. postal service.
  • Updated every three months.
  • U.S. Consumers/Lifestyles: searches marketing info that private companies provide to the Postal Service.
  • Sometimes has cell numbers.
  • Use it to find neighbors of your subject.


Social Media:  What is social media?

“Social media describes the online tools that people use to share content, profiles, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives and media itself, thus facilitating conversations and interaction online between groups of people. These tools include blogs, message boards, podcasts, micro blogs, lifestreams, bookmarks, networks, communities, wikis, and vlogs.” — Brian Solis, “Defining Social Media,” http://www.briansolis.com/2007/06/defining-social-media/


Facebook – Graph search is an invaluable tool for finding people and their family & friends. Many people have their privacy settings wide open.  You can send messages directly to the person’s Facebook inbox for a fee, currently $5.

Thomas E. Duncan – victim died of Ebola.  The researchers at The New York Times found key family members of Duncan on Facebook.  Notice all the relatives tracked down in this piece.


LinkedIn – Check your settings at the top right! You want to view profiles anonymously.

  • Advanced search can search by keyword, name, location, current or past employees.  The New York Times:  A reporter recently asked the Times research department to help her find members of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. We did this in part by doing an advanced search on LinkedIn, which allows users to search by keyword, name, location, and current or past employment.

Join the LinkedIn for Journalists group and take their tutorial.  This will get you a free year of LinkedIn Premium, which lets you send emails and do more advanced searches.

  • X-ray search LinkedIn through Google
  • LinkedIn search hides names on profiles if they are a third degree connection or beyond. Search using site:linkedin.com <keyword or name>

Twitter to see what your subject has been tweeting and/or find friends of a crime victim.

Try the advanced search to find tweets by location.

Find tweets that mention Vonderrit D. Myers –the 18-year old who was shot by a St. Louis Police Officer last week.


Don’t forget about a Lexis Nexis clip search for finding people!  Check out this YouTube video by CUNY Adjunct Professor Susan Beachy on searching for quotes from people.  In the video she shows us how to find quotes by Rob Astorino using this search string:

hlead(rob! w/2 astorino) and astorino w/5 (say! or said)


You can use a similar search strategy looking for articles –where a possible source is quoted.

hlead(your search terms) and atleast5(say! or said)


hlead((scotland or scottish) and vot! and independ!) and atleast5(say! or said)

This will search the headline and lead paragraph of stories to find ones that mention Scotland or Scottish right off the bat. The truncation character, !, after “vot” will find vote, votes, voting, voters, etc. Searching on “independ!” will find independence and independent. (Note that I didn’t truncate Scotland by using scot*, because that might have given us stories about guys named Scott, Scotch whiskey, etc.)


Access World News

And finally, on the subject of article databases, don’t forget about Access World News, a repository for smaller papers and international sources.


Social media search engines

  • Spokeo — find people, phones and addresses, plus email and social media accounts.  Use J-school login & password.
  • Ancestry.com will help you find family connections, addresses, etc. The Times research department used it to find relatives of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown.
  • Namechk  — shows if a username is active in other social sites
  • Other search engines: Peekyou, Pipl, Wink


Other people-finding resources


Let’s try today’s Drill


*This lesson was contributed by Susan C. Beachy.