By Sonya Smith | February 5th, 2008
Lately I’ve been working on a crazy project: to organize and categorize all of my sources into one Microsoft Excel spread sheet.
I know, I know most of you out there will think it is just some crazy pursuit and one that takes too much time. But, I’ll try to prove you wrong.
First, I got the idea during an investigative training course held at my paper – the OC Register. One of our speakers and teachers was the amazing reporter Ron Campbell. He works in business – but he’s pretty much our paper’s best computer-assisted reporter. He’ll take weeks to work on most stories – but each one is highly researched, highly interesting and most of all – based on figures he’s found buried in data but told through real people that drive his stories home.
His training showed our group how to organize sources, phone logs and other data – things he said are critical to running a professional investigation. I’d always thought my sources were organized – nothing like the scribbled example sheet he showed of a reporter’s usual, disorganized source list.
And then I went back to my desk. I found sources anywhere and everywhere. I had names and numbers written down on stickies, scraps of paper and other documents. I figured, hey, I have nothing to be ashamed of – I just switched beats in November and my Irvine sources are much better organized than my new tech sources. But no! I found those sources in three different Word documents by topic (and some on the wrong sheets), in old e-mails and on my phone.
Well, I’ve already told you what I’ve been doing as a result of this mess. I’ve made an Excel chart and started entering sources. Already I have a database of over 350 sources. Many I had forgotten, many I am missing e-mails and cell numbers for and many of the new tech companies I am covering – I do not have one regular person I talk with about the company. This has been very time consuming, BUT I now realize Campbell’s words to be true – I don’t have the time to NOT organize my sources. Already my chart has helped me find people to talk with – and slowly I’ll continue to add new sources and to add information for the sources already on my chart.