Transparency in reporting: Help me pick my next investigation, then watch it unfold

Today I’m trying something new at The Intelligencer. I’m starting a conversation in this space that would usually be private and between just me and my editor. That conversation? What story should I be working on next? What public data should I be hunting down? What local issues, shrouded in mystery, should I be investigating?

There are two ways to participate in this discussion: in the comments below or, if you’d like to make your suggestions confidentially, using this simple and secure form.

After one week of discussion, I’ll pick one story idea and begin pursuing it. I’ll keep a public diary of my progress in a separate post, including data requests, interviews and research notes. At every point in the process, there will be opportunity for anybody to challenge my lines of inquiry, preliminary conclusions, even the quality and diversity of my sources. Once a week until the story runs I’ll post a progress report and discussion topic, which will be an opportunity to zoom in or re-focus through a back-and-forth in the comments.

There may be information I withhold, such as sources who speak to me on background only, but I will reveal whatever I can in real time. Where there is information I am protecting, I will note the information’s existence (and whatever I can of the nature of that information) in the public diary.

Why do this? I’ve been amazed and inspired by the participation in previous crowdsourcing efforts. When I asked people to share their experiences and story ideas on the underfunded courts in Minnesota, readers who worked in the courts wrote more than 30,000 words in response. When I asked state workers to speak about the effects of shutdown, another flood of testimony. This seems like a logical next step.

There’s another reason for this experiment: We demand unprecedented transparency from our political institutions — and sometimes we even get it. What might transparency in reporting look like? And how might it affect how I do my work and how that work is received? That’s something I hope to find out.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride, beginning with your ideas. Throw them all at me, no matter how developed they are. If it was a snippet of data or a news article that triggered your idea, share that also. The only limitation to the subject matter is that it be Minnesota-specific.

If you don’t have a story idea, just a topic you believe ought to be given some attention, say something about that topic and why it matters to you. And if you see an idea from somebody else that you like but you want to add to it, please do.

If you want to receive weekly updates by email, you can submit your email address here. You’ll receive the first email on Aug. 1. I will not share your email address under any circumstances and will only use it for updates specific to this project.

Update (8/2/11): Readers have suggested more than 50 story ideas or topics since I posted last week. Some very good stuff. If you haven’t suggested a story idea or topic, please do. If you know somebody who might have a good suggestion, please pass this link along.

The first email update went out on Aug. 1. I’m close to a decision and doing due diligence on the ideas that best fit the project. Stay tuned and thank you for your participation so far.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by John Clouse on 07/27/2011 - 11:04 am.

    Please, please, please investigate the claim that “the rich are the job creators and they will leave the state if their taxes are raised.”

  2. Submitted by Spencer Jones on 07/27/2011 - 12:10 pm.

    I am not much into the conspiracy theroies that are floating around; however last year I watch the former Govenor’s tv program. I was really interested that he reported on a Prison like facility that is made for “civil unrest” in the Brainard area.
    Could you please find out if this and that story were true. Could they really put honest hardworking Minnesotan families in this sort of a facility if say the power grid when down?
    I was very skeptical of the line on the program, yet it tickled my mind that the goverment could be planning something. Esspecially, since this whole debt limit fiasco in D.C.
    Follow that, in any case. You should have fun making fun of “The Body” LOL
    Please take a look:)

  3. Submitted by Andrew Richner on 07/27/2011 - 02:15 pm.

    Recent political rhetoric has been obsessing over government waste, particularly as it relates to claims of wasteful programs and overpaid government employees, but a large amount of the materials required and a hefty portion of the actual work needed is controlled by government procurement processes that I don’t think a lot of the citizenry knows much about, myself included, and which hasn’t received much scrutiny at all, though we’ve all heard that sweetheart contracting deals exist. I think it’d be worth investigating what companies are making how much money from procurement contracts with the state government or more generally how procurement law in Minnesota is in practice and maybe also what policy experts, government workers, contractors, and laborers tend to think of our current system.

  4. Submitted by Sieglinde Gassman on 07/27/2011 - 03:08 pm.

    I would like to get substantial, factual data regarding the cost savings to the State achieved by assisting seniors to remain in their homes and by providing group home or PCA service to those with disabilities. This should compare the current costs for institutional care provided by the State with the cost to the State of providing those items above.

  5. Submitted by Jerry Buerge on 07/27/2011 - 03:26 pm.

    I’ll second that request for information about the expected actions of the rich on job creation and their choice of residency.

    I can’t believe that any business person with any common sense at all would be willing to walk away from a customer base anywhere, particularly one that they are acquainted with.

  6. Submitted by Richard Pecar on 07/27/2011 - 10:12 pm.

    I know this topic may not have much sizzle, but just the same, I haven’t been able to access the info…thanks!

    How much total Legacy (Sales) Tax has been collected to date in the following categories? How much has been disbursed in each category? Who received it, the amount received, and a brief description of each project?

    Category #1: 33 percent of the receipts deposited in the outdoor heritage fund; and,

    Category #2; 33 percent of the receipts deposited in the clean water fund (five percent must protect drinking water).

  7. Submitted by Joe Musich on 07/27/2011 - 10:21 pm.

    Okay there’s so much to invetigate. The private sector usually goes untouched with these things which can conrtibute to the idea that goverment is the problem. Who dare questions private enterprise and their cost over runs or inept employess all the way to the top of the chain but I digress.

    So maybe both a private and public sector can be examined in it’s relationship to lighting public spaces. What does the tapayer pay for public street lighting, eg what is the expense of one street light and what are it’s benefits and how are the benefits measured ? How do we really know lighting prevents crime. There’s a lot of after dark lighting out there is it public and private money “going down a hole” without a real return ? What are the standards for lighting both public and private spaces ? Who sets the standards and who’s interests are involved in the make-up of those standards ? Then there’s is the pollution element that has many dimensions. Safety and cost you say ? But what is the reality of that thinking ?

  8. Submitted by Mark Stromseth on 07/27/2011 - 10:26 pm.

    @Spencer Jones

    Yes, they can actually put you in a “detention center”, for any reason the President deems necessary. There are hundreds of these detention centers around the country and they’ve been planned and built since the 60s for periods of civil unrest. They’re just like internment camps we used on the Japanese during WWII.

    If you’ve seen the movie The X-Files, consider this prescient line:

    “It will happen on a holiday, when people are away from their homes. The President will declare a state of emergency, at which time all federal agencies, all government will come under the power of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA. The secret government.”

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