Boburg started looking into political connections of hires but didn't have much. Big break: Court records included a document that wasn't supposed to be there. Showed 50 names of referrals to office.
Tips: Check records for information you won't find in interviews.
When you first start a beat, get the most basic financial documents as soon as possible: Budget, capital plan, payroll, campaign donations... Have those documents at the ready. When names come up run them through the documents.
Boburg had to go to the New York pension system to get official total compensation for payroll. Found $4M differences in one year of bonuses from Port Authority's numbers.
As a result of Boburg's stories the top bonuses were stripped and protocols rewritten.
Boburg Tip: Sources beget sources.
Once you crack a beat open and tell unexpected stories, when someone comes across something they'll think of you...
Audience question: Are you still writing day-to-day stuff on your beat?
Boburg: Not really. Daily news is a great way to get into the coverage... My editors give me a pretty long leash. I'm lucky. We have a lot of reporters for a paper our size.
Audience question from a broadcast city hall reporter: What's your approach to getting info out of people who don't want to take risks with their livelihoods. What do you offer them?
Boburg: When I approach someone and they feel like it's a risk, I say, "Let's just meet, talk, I'm trying to learn something about the Port Authority [or agency]." That's my approach. Everyone has their own style.... also, find the haters. They are often a great source of information.
Question: What about the "on background" or off-the-record promises.
Boburg: My promises are iron-clad. I've developed a reputation where people call me and they trust me.
Question: Are you quoting anonymous sources?
Boburg: Yes. I call them background interviews. Used sparingly. Noted: Fear was rampant in the Port Authority. Staff threatened to be fired.
Tips for starting in a community beat: Start with haters. A lot of people are focused on getting access to top players. I like to work my way from the outside in. To find tension you need to work around the edges. Start with recent retirees. Get different tiers of sources: all levels of staff and management to get 360 view.
Question: Did you want to cover the Port Authority? Boburg: No
Boburg: I had no idea it would be as fruitful as it's been.
Question: What do you want to do? Boburg: Investigations, which he's doing.
Boburg: You can tailor your interests to whatever beat. I'm a generalist. I don't have any particular predilection for what I do next.