Investigative Reporting: Business and Nonprofits

By Carolyn VanBrocklin

In their careers, investigative reporters may get called upon to look into businesses, nonprofits and religious organizations. In “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook,” Houston discusses the different activities these institutions can undertake that would make them worthy of investigating, and tells how journalists can go about investigating such places. tips7

Companies often have to submit annual reports, which are often posted on their website. Such financial statements can reveal a lot about the company, particularly in the footnotes of the document.  There are six different kinds of filings that can be helpful for investigative stories:the S-1, 10-K, 10-Q, DEF 14A, Form 4 and Form 13-F.

In addition there are federal regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, that were established to regulate businesses and prevent fraud and questionable practices. These agencies can provide material that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

As always, it’s important to follow paper and human trails.  Investigate the documents that companies leave behind, and talk to the people that hold or formerly held certain positions.

Labor unions are also good places to conduct investigations, as they may need checking up on their daily affairs.  There are still millions of union members in the United States.  Many documents can be used by journalists to track unions that the demographics of the union and what the unions do with funds, among other things.

Journalists must also investigate charities and foundations.  These non-profit organizations do not pay taxes, which leaves them with extra money journalists must investigate as to its use.  Form 990 helps investigators see where the funds are going in a non-profit organization.

Non-profits fall under government, state and local regulation.  These organizations, without the right intentions, can grow unchecked.

Particularly with the fall of Enron, many big businesses are being featured in the news for various misdemeanors.  Top officials in dishonest businesses are getting rich and trying to pass it off as simply luck.  This Pulitzer Prize-winning story by Charles Forelle and James Bandler discusses CEO’s who are getting rich quick through stock.  The CEO’s are taking advantage of their position in the company and using it to make themselves more comfortable.

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