Ask for check registers and other public records tips you probably haven’t thought of

From Poynter I was at a journalism conference in Nashville last year when I heard about a public record I had never thought to request.

Tawnell Hobbs, a reporter at The Dallas Morning News, was giving a presentation on school finance reporting when she mentioned an investigative story she had done using check registers.

“I get them every month. That’s somebody sitting there with a checkbook writing checks,” she said. “On its face it’s not that sexy, but it can be.”

Hobbs found that the Dallas Independent School District “spent at least $57 million over four years — or one year’s average base pay for 1,086 teachers — on purchases such as pricey meals, costly trips, lucrative consulting contracts and overnight stays at hotels in the Dallas area and beyond.”

She also found that the school system spent more than $300,000 at Atlanta Bread Co., about $86,000 at Chick-fil-A and at least $1.7 million on promotional items, such as mugs, wristbands, T-shirts and hats.

As Hobbs spoke, I thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?” I’ve requested credit card records from public agencies I’ve covered, but I never thought about checks.

I reached out to Hobbs recently and asked her to tell me more about her story and what advice she has for reporters:

Continue Reading>>