This account was written for the MidAtlantic News Research Conference on July 18-19, 1997.
Chris Hardesty News research manager The News & Observer Raleigh, North Carolina It's Wednesday, July 9, and today was a fairly typical one for me at The News & Observer. I got into the office around 8 a.m. There were a few people already at work. Teresa, the News Research DepartmentŐs director was in her office. The group of folks who maintain the electronic text archive were involved in getting todayŐs stories enhanced. Jean, who does more to make everything run smoothly than anyone realizes, was getting the day's state and national papers on the racks. Before I continue, I need to show how our department is organized. Teresa -- Director, News research Chris -- News Research Manager Becky -- News Researcher (FT) Brooke -- News Researcher (FT) Charles -- News Researcher (FT) Colline -- Archive, Operations Manager Brenda -- Enhancer (FT) Hillary -- Enhancer (PT) Jean -- Jean-of-all-trades (FT) Jonathan -- Enhancer Matt #1 -- Enhancer (PT) Matt #2 -- Enhancer/Photo Archivist (PT) Renee -- Enhancer/Photo Archivist (PT) Peggy -- Photo Archivist/Researcher (FT) Tonya -- Enhancer (PT) Denise -- IQ Manager (public research service) Karen -- IQ Researcher (FT) Jeremy -- IQ Researcher (PT) Sperry -- Resource Manager David -- Database Researcher (FT) Donna -- Database Researcher/Developer (FT) Norman -- Data collection Clerk (PT) Patricia --Data collection Clerk (PT) The first thing I do every morning is sign on to my e-mail. Much of the company's communication comes via e-mail, so just about everyone leaves it running through the day. Many of the 400 or so research requests we handle each month come electronically. If I see that late requests from the previous night have not been answered I'll take care of them. Likewise, I'll get started on any early-morning requests. Today, however, there weren't any requests leftover from last night and none were waiting in the morning. I sent a message to a reporter to compliment them on a story they wrote, which I try to do every day. Anyway, since there wasn't any research to get started on right away, I spent about an hour entering fulfilled requests into the research budget we maintain to keep track of the research we do. It had been quite awhile since I had entered anything in. The research budget tells for whom the research was done, what department and desk they work on, how much time was spent on the request, what resources were used and some other tidbits. I attend the morning news meeting every morning at 10:30. It usually lasts for about 30 minutes. Anywhere between twelve and 20 editors show up to pitch stories from their desks for Page One the next day. We've already worked on many of the stories that are pitched, but a fair number of stories are conceived around that desk, so it's important for someone from News Research to be there to offer ideas and suggest ways in which our department can help make stories better. A critique of the day's paper takes place at that meeting, too. The section fronts are tacked on the wall and comments about content and play are voiced. Too often, it seems that the editors are commenting only to hear themselves speak. I reserve comments for times that I feel very strongly about something in the paper -- usually when I notice mistakes. I have a hard time tolerating factual errors. If there is any doubt about something, reporters and editors have a capable research department to check questionable things. When I got back from the morning meeting, I made a call to the county government's accounts payable department to find out if an individual of his company was listed as a vendor. We are able to dial into the county's computer system to check such things, but I made the call to confirm their absence from the database. The reporter who requested the search was quite confident that I would find them in the listing of vendors. The person in accounts payable told me that neither the man or his company did business with the county government. A little later I put a call in to the flak at the Division of Motor Vehicles. We have a database of the state's license plates, but the one that a reporter was looking for was issued too recently to be included. Just after I place that call, a reporter from the business desk called to ask for help deciphering an AutoTrak report Becky did for him yesterday. He was working on a story about a couple of stock brokers being sued by a group of investors who claim that their money was poorly invested. I went to his desk to explain all the information the report contained. He questioned some of the details, so I offered to double-check some of the things it indicated. Specifically, he wanted to check on the ownership of some property, including a vacant plot in town. I told him we'd check it out. Brooke and Becky had gone to lunch by the time I got back to the department so I dialed into the county's database to confirm ownership of the property and connect it to one of the brokers. In the meantime the reporter called again to ask about a company that the brokers might own together. He also wanted to know the color of one broker's Ferrari. I checked the Secretary of State's database for the company, looked in the archive, the Internet, and Dun and Bradstreet, but still couldn't find anything about the company the reporter mentioned. As for the Ferrari, I had its license plate, but our DMV database doesn't have vehicle color. I called the flak at the agency again to see if she had access to anything that would tell the color. She said that she didn't and couldn't offer any suggestions. I had some time before the 2 o'clock meeting to plan the weekend papers, so I made some worked on gathering some information about Atlanta and Austin for a graphic that is part of a series on sprawl running in a couple of weeks. The weekend meeting plans the budget for the weekend and Monday's papers. The stories are usually written and we have already helped, but occasionally there are new twists that would benefit from a good dose of information my department could provide. This week everything seems to be set. I worked a little more on the sprawl stuff, using the Census Web site and a book our market research department has called Demographics USA. All of a sudden my mind shifted back to the Ferrari. I realized I had the car's VIN and thought that it might provide clues to its color. I got the phone number for a Ferrari dealer and called them. The dealer told me that identification numbers on some makes of cars do indicate color, but not on Ferraris. The man was willing to check his company's records to see if it had sold the vehicle. No luck. I asked about service records, thinking that perhaps it had been in for a repair. Again, no luck. "Maybe I know the guy," the dealer said. "Can you tell me the owner's name?" I said the last name and the dealer was able to give me the owner's first name without prompting. He asked me to hold, and when he returned to the line he told me the broker's address, which confirmed to me that we were talking about the same man. He bought a car from the dealership 20 years ago. "Hey," the dealer said. "I know how you can get the color. Call his nosy neighbor. Hang on and let me get the number." Pretty strange, but what the heck. The dealer gave me the name, address and phone number of the broker's next-door neighbor. I have no idea how this car dealer knows who, let alone that they're nosy, the broker's neighbor is and I didn't ask. I gave the name to the reporter, who called and was told the car is red. We had given the reporter a list of neighbors the day before but he hadn't called any, assuming none would have any knowledge helpful to the story. One of our investigative reporters called to get a copy of laws addressing contempt charges. A legislative committee investigating a suspicious $100,000 payment to a state employee called the man to testify at a hearing, but the man answered no questions. So, they charged him with contempt. I got copies of the law and its penalties from the General Statutes in our collection. Things slowed down for a bit until a reporter wanted to find out if several individuals had made any contributions to state politicians. We have a database of all campaign contributions in the state, but it's been converted to a new format and is still in a beta stage and we haven't been trained to use it. Charles and I tried to figure it work it but couldn't. I called David at home to get him to walk me through the process of searching the "Money Machine." He wasn't home yet so I left a message for him to call me back. He did, and coached me on how to get into the database. The people I was checking had not made any contributions. I gave the reporter an update and then realized it was getting kind of late. I walked out the door about 6:45.
A Day in the Life
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