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Investigative Reporting 101

RepYou want to be an "investigative reporter" (isn't that redundant?)?

No need to go to some high powered university to get a degree. These 4 simple steps are all you need to know to wow a prospective employer. In the interview, just tell them that you are willing and able to:

1) Pick a prospective target.

2) Find a morsel of information that could be misconstrued by an unsophisticated audience.

3) Make it sound as incriminating as possible.

4) Include the true facts behind the perceived wrong (showing that there was no foul, after all) at the end of the story.

Need an example? Look no further than the "inspired" work of David Barer, Kylie McGivern and Josh Hinkle at KXAN-TV.

The innuendo is an attempted hatchet job of Visit Austin so thick that Jabba the Hutt would be impressed.

Tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money spent on alcohol, dinners, travel and concert tickets! Oh, the humanity!

Except the tax money being utilized was specifically collected and designated for exactly this purpose...to encourage convention and event planners to choose (and bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to) Austin, supporting the region's economy and reducing the need to tax residents at an even higher rate than they presently are. And, it is a tax not paid by residents. One wonders whether David, Kylie and Josh stopped to think that their personal taxes could easily go up if this "investigative report" resulted in the Visit Austin not being able to compete with other national and international destinations. Y'all think Austin sells itself because you're so cool? That's just hubris talking.

My two favorite pieces of "unsophisticated" innuendo were these: The breathless breakout fact that Visit Austin paid a $976 tip at a client dinner event. Joe and Jill Public should be outraged! Except, the bill was $6,500. THAT'S 15%, PEOPLE; the bare minimum that a professional in the travel industry (or anybody, frankly) should tip at a meal.

But, to Joe and Jill (that clench up at a $7 tip at Applebee's)...this sounds spectacularly egregious.

The other is even better. Our intrepid band of reporters unearthed that Visit Austin spent a collective $24,000 for former CEO Bob Lander's retirement party and new CEO Tom Noonan's welcome party. Simply shocking.

Except that those events were paid out of the DMO's private sector account (not public tax revenue). Just a minor nuance, there, eh?

And that, dear student of investigative reporting, brings us to the coup de grace of your desired path in life: the ability to set off a bomb in a public space, get everyone to look...and then say, "but, then again."

The close of the article (well beyond where mere mortals would have abandoned the story) says: "KXAN found Visit Austin’s spending on entertainment and meals does fall in line with other major Texas cities." And then, reveals comparable numbers from Dallas and Houston and Las Vegas.

So...if this is the norm, where is the story? Where is the foul? And, why have you three chosen to sully the name of one of the most transparent and thoughtfully run Destination Marketing Organizations in the country?

But that, dear student, is how to find fleeting fame and marginal fortune in the investigative reporting field.

Good luck with that.

Bill Geist

Bill GeistBill Geist

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