Joseph Nathan Cohen

Department of Sociology, CUNY Queens College, New York, NY

Brian Rosenthal (NY Times) on Research

This livestream was produced as part of the QPL Learning Series project.

Original Video Description

Research can be a very important part of the creative process, and strong research skills can be the basis of a creative career. This installment of the Queens Podcast Lab‘s Learning Seminar features a discussion about research with Brian M. Rosenthal, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist with the New York Times. Learn about the craft of research and the field of writing from a highly-accomplished journalist. We will discuss the work of investigative journalists, task of research, and best research practices.

Transcription (Auto-Generated)

so try not to swear all right okay let’s see here give it a second all right we are live hello everybody my name is joseph cohen i am a sociology professor here at queen’s college in the city university of new york and uh i am very very first of all i’m here uh with several of my colleagues co-director jason tuga from the english department hi everybody brian thanks for coming really excited and our journalism students are going to be really excited yeah this is awesome uh ryan sperry is my collaborator in research on podcasting and content creation at queen’s college and we have johnny sullivan who is the editor-in-chief of the queen’s college night news pleasure to meet you um and again absolutely want to echo joe and jason when i say that i’m extraordinary extraordinarily grateful to you for appearing and i know that this this panel will be personally very illuminating for me so thank you that’s awesome and we have uh uh uh just on the zoom session uh brit who is uh also from knight news and my colleagues in sociology robin rogers and anahi vladrich all right before we begin if i can just take a moment to just promote just a couple things that are coming up so thank you to all of you who are joining us in this series to talk uh with brian rosenthal who is a journalist at the new york times we’re going to introduce him in a second but i just wanted to let you know about some upcoming events next week we are going to be sitting down with ben lindbergh of the ringer ben is a highly acclaimed sports journalist baseball writer and podcaster he’s worked for fan grass baseball perspective and now the ringer and so those of you who are interested in sports writing sports broadcasting or sports journalism you’re going to want to catch this and then the following thursday we’re going to meet jay acunzo who is a podcaster who has done a lot of work on uh successful podcasting enterprises it’s more of a he’s a marketing and business oriented creator and he’s got a great mind for content creation strategy and marketing and it’s it’ll be great to talk to them and then finally uh in the uh next week on friday march 25th we’re gonna meet rachel skaggs from ohio state university she’s part of a very interesting program that brings together business students and art students and teaches people how to succeed in the business of content creation um so without any further delay though i’d like to get to today’s talk we are thrilled to have brian rosenthal a pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist with the new york times to come talk about the craft of research in journalism and in content creation uh it is a real privilege to have you here brian thank you so much for joining us thanks for having me it’s great to be here so to to get started can you just tell us a little bit about uh your background maybe your work on uh taxi uh you know the taxi industry and other work that you’ve done and how you got into investigative journalism to begin with yeah um How did you get into journalism so uh i grew up in indiana um and i kind of fell into journalism i was really focused in high school on getting into a good college and i heard that in order to get into a good college you have to do a lot of extracurricular activities um and so i joined basically every uh extracurricular activity at my high school the math club the spelling ball team the boy scouts the service organization the debate team but i happened to join my high school newspaper as part of that and out of all those activities i loved the high school newspaper the most and it was just really fun to talk to people and find out stuff about the school and uh i wouldn’t say that i did a lot of investigating then but uh i was very into this idea about finding out things that other people didn’t know or didn’t want me to know um so when i went to college i got into a good college at northwestern and and um the first thing i did when i got there was i joined the college newspaper uh the daily northwestern and you know that’s why i’m so happy that we have the the editor of the the night news here because the college newspaper really had a huge impact on my uh career and my life um where i learned to be a journalist and um where i met some of the people who uh had a big impact teaching me to be a journalist and remain some of my closest friends um i eventually became the end of my college paper i actually started an investigations desk at my college paper um because i thought we should be doing more investigative stuff um we exposed a secret society at northwestern um and uh so i have that experience i did uh five internships in college at five newspapers um in uh in five states um and one of them the seattle times actually then hired me on after i graduated um and so uh i worked in seattle for uh three years um and then i got a job actually a former boss from one of my interns one of my other internships reached out to me and asked me to apply for a job in texas um and so i ended up moving down to the houston chronicle and i was in the austin bureau writing about uh rick perry and ted cruz and um all the personalities down there and um that was was a great experience and in my last year in houston i was there for three years and in my last year i got a tip about um special education in texas um and that turned into my first real investigation Special Education in Texas which was a a year-long investigation into the denial of special education services to kids with disability and disabilities in texas and that story ended up doing really well i mean it led to laws being changed as a result the state of texas um decided to spend three billion more dollars on special education and i was a finalist for politic for that project um and that got the attention of the new york times um and so uh they actually called me and and asked me to um to uh to um interview up there um so i don’t know if you sense the pattern but i’ve never actually successfully applied for a job Applying for Jobs i unsuccessfully applied for a bunch of jobs but between there but i think one of the lessons is that in journalism it’s based a lot on you know who you know and the work that you do uh more than than called applying for for jobs um but anyway i came to the times about five years ago now and um i’m an investigative reporter on the metro desk i’ve had that job since i came here and i do in-depth stories about new york city and new york state um and uh yeah my my biggest story today is i spent 18 months looking at the taxi industry in new york and published a five-part series about predatory lending um and merchant manipulation in the taxi medallion industry um and uh that uh won the political um gossip a couple years ago now um and uh uh now i’m i’ve been working on some other other things and i’m actually about six or seven months into a project right now that i’m pretty deep into but uh but yeah that’s that’s my uh my life story basically i i have a follow-up question which personality who’s right for a career in Investigative Journalism investigative journalism i i’d imagine that the this line of work is not for everybody so what do you need to you know to succeed in that field i mean i think that a lot of different uh types of people who can succeed because there’s a lot of different styles i mean some people are really all about data um and if they have that kind of mind they can uh craft stories out of numbers that nobody else can um some people are great at documents you know finding documents uh understanding dense things um other people are great at interviewing and and getting people to open up and and share their um their uh you know their problems in life or or things that have happened to them or convincing sources to give them information um and uh so they’re i mean you kind of need all those skills but i think there are different types of people that are good at each of those different types of things i would say the number one thing um is that two biggest things are which are related are creativity and persistence um because a lot of what we do i mean i joke sometimes that investigative reporting is just like more it’s just like regular reporting but with more time um but the reality is a lot of what we do is we know we need to find some information and the conventional ways that you would go about finding the information like a reporter might do on a daily story isn’t working and so you have to be creative and persistent to find other ways to get that information so you know if you’re somebody that can kind of think outside the box and and certainly if you’re somebody that has the this is actually a um surprisingly valuable skill in investigative journalism the persistence but also the ability to handle uh tedious work for long periods of time because it’s often not nearly as glamorous as you think it will be Getting Started okay so i thought what we do is i i i wanted to ask you just about your larger process so that people who aspire to the type of content that you produce could get an insight into your method and then i thought after that we would open up the florida questions uh to about anything uh that uh you know people want to know either here on the zoomer in the live chat but so i wanted to start by asking you how do you get started on a story like some people might want to do what you do but they say well where do i get ideas how do i even get started with this what do you recommend well i think coming up with the idea for the story i think is the hardest part of of what investigative journalists do um i would say the two biggest things are first of all just talking to a lot of people the texas story about special education came about because um i decided i really i’ve never done an investigation before but i decided that i really wanted to do a big investigation i had no idea what i wanted to investigate and so i basically just called everybody who i knew and all of my sources from my beat reporting um i called 75 people emailed 75 people and i i just said very bluntly hey i want to do a big investigation what did i investigate and you know i got 75 different answers 74 of them were terrible but one of them turned into this incredible story and so you know that’s kind of when i talk about like persistence and being willing to do tedious things but um so part of it is just that like those uh um be talking to people i mean obviously be um curious notice what you notice um and always looking out for things and then the other thing i’ll say is just reading um i get probably most of my stories just from reading other news stories and then thinking about it um and and what i mean by that is so there’ll be a story in a local newspaper in you know rural new york about somebody dying of something and i’ll see that and i’ll be like whoa well how often does that happen does that happen a lot in new york does that happen more in new york than other states or other big states or other democratic states or other states in the northeast um or more now than it did before you know you can just think critically and and come up with all sorts of interesting questions to ask one of my favorite stories i did recently was about hospitals suing their patients um for unpaid medical bills uh during the pandemic which they were not supposed to do because the governor had said you got to put a pause on on any of medical debt lawsuits um and the only reason i got that story was i had read in the texas tribune that texas hospitals were suing their patients um for unpaid medical votes and i said huh well it’s happening in texas i wonder if it’s happening here um so yeah just reading a lot is a surprisingly good way to um to come up with that yes Stories does anybody johnny you got a question about stories yeah um so i i would say that one of the things that the night news benefits from most is a seemingly never-ending wealth of resources from which to draw when you write local stories um we also enjoy um the full collaboration of the administration even when we write articles which might be more critical of them than they would like um so i i’d have to imagine that the the dynamic in a professional newsroom is a bit different and i’m curious um what you do when it seems like the well is running a bit dry on on sources for further information i mean it depends on the story um but my general philosophy is that more people know about something than you think um no matter what the uh what the uh thing is and so you know i mean take the taxi driver example um for a second like that was about taxi drivers being um suckered into loans and so you would think that the sources for that would be the banks that gave the loans and the taxi drivers um but it turns out there are actually way more people that know about that than you think there are the uh brokers that are involved in setting up the loans they’re the lawyers that are involved in writing the contracts there are um people that work for those people there are people that know those people there are regulators at the city that oversaw the taxi industry the regulars of the federal government that oversaw the banks that um there are so many different people that may have come across something and and may be able to help and so that’s when i talk about creativity it’s like thinking who could possibly have known something about this and then you know you call them and you give them a shot and the worst they can say is no then you’re back at where you started um so i make a ton of calls that go nowhere but again sometimes it works out and and then it doesn’t really matter about the 100 cards you made before um nobody when when you read the story you don’t read about the 100 cards that failed so all that matters is the information so can i just i just want to clarify what he does and then i’ll let you follow so uh so what you’re saying brian is when you get an idea you ask yourself who could possibly know anything about this and then you just hit the phones and you just look for people who might be able to share nuggets with you is that what you’re saying yeah um and correct and what i also do is every conversation the i there are three questions that i always ask um one of them is just like is there anything else that i didn’t ask that that i should ask which is um the standard but then i also first of all i asked you of any documentation that’s my favorite question and then second of all maybe most importantly for my reporting process i ask is there anybody else that i should talk to if you were me who would your next call be to um and so yeah it’s a lot of hitting the phones and then trying to get once i have a set of names trying to get more names and and you know if you’re doing your job right like by the end of your reporting process you have way more people to call than when you started because everybody’s giving you ideas for additional people so is it a matter then of of building up a network of resources personally or does the times have sort of a directory of people that you could start with that’s an interesting question um yeah i the times does obviously have some relationships with people um i wouldn’t say there’s a directory like written out like oh i’m investigating the task let me just look that up there were definitely a lot of resources in-house um and i mean part of your job joseph we skip past the first part of what i do when i am launching an investigation which is i read everything that’s been written um about that that topic and you know look for people who’ve been quoted those are the first people i call but also look you know when you’re at the times there’s a lot of institutional knowledge so look at who wrote a story on something related to what you’re interested in so i have a question so you read up you Organization get the names of people you start networking and get some questions where do you store how do you organize all of this information like what’s your method for documenting it and organizing your thoughts um i will answer that but let me just add something on to the last answer because there’s something else i meant to say um because you talk about building a network of people i actually do think of it that way when i’m take the taxi project which i spent 18 months on the first cause that i made which gave me some basic information about the taxi industry would actually not that helpful or ended up in the in the new york times because i had no idea about anything at that point i didn’t really know what the story was and i didn’t know the questions to ask but those connections that i made early on in the reporting classes those are then once i have my list which i organized which i’ll get to um a lot of times i’m them going back to people months weeks or months later and i’m saying okay we have this initial conversation i have some much more specific questions to ask you um and it’s those conversations that really form the backbone of the story much more than the than the initial conversations um in terms of organization uh i that’s something that i am kind of obsessed with and i spend a lot of time thinking about um and working on on on a daily basis um i have first of all i have a log of all my calls um and all the people who i’ve talked to but also the people i’ve reached out to and how many times it reached out to them and how it reached out to them um but i also have a very specific system for keeping my notes um and kind of just the spirit of the project i have one google doc um and i think it’s important for me for it to be in one place um in one document um and then i use the outline function on google docs are you familiar with this function life-changing um just allows you to like see everything and click on it and go there immediately um but on that google doc i’ll have so i have head headers for my to-do list like my short term like priority to-do list my longer-term to-do list like the questions i need to answer the things i’m i’m thinking about um i i will have sub-headers for um the clips uh you know news articles about the topic links to documents or data or reports i will have just some random things for random topics that come up along themes that emerged from the reporting have people that didn’t respond or have people that didn’t comment um and then i’ll have all my interview notes which will be again organized using that uh outline function and i’ll i’ll break it down i mean the taxi example you know i’d have a sub head for taxi drivers and i’d even break it down from that i’d do you know taxi drivers who had um bought their medallion at the height of the in the bubble and height of the bubble was people that had it from earlier um you know i’ve got a subheader for uh bankers and i break that down into like current bankers with former bankers um sometimes i bring it down into like helpful bankers versus unhelpful bankers um but i have it all broken down and then i have a header for writing which is very important because as i go the the way to not approach this is to report on something for you and then sit down at the end of the year and be like okay what should i say about it you need to be thinking about it along the way and so i’ll be constantly putting in ideas for structure or different um themes that emerge or different you know when i’m like in the shower in a random sentence of beautiful writing comes to me i’ll put that in there um and you know quotes key quotes that i want to use i’ll put that in there so when it comes time to write i’m really ready to go and and i i know what i’m what i’m doing so i got to think there’s all sorts of Students follow-up questions on this one no robin did you want to ask a question i do um i i just wanted to ask a question about students i find that a lot of my students when they go to do their first real research projects qualitative research projects which are very similar to journalism feel that their students and therefore no one will talk to them and i always tell them the opposite people love to talk to students and help students so is that is there anything you can sorry that’s my fresh direct i’m gonna buzz them in one second um is there anything you can say to the students about taking leveraging their status as a student yeah totally i mean i think uh yeah sometimes i think i should say i’m a student so some more people would talk to me uh but people think that if you’re at the new york times more people are willing to talk with you but actually that’s really not always the case a lot of people either they get scared off by by that big name or they have some you know personal feelings about the new york times about the bias that they think the times has and so right a lot of times um and that goes both ways by the way a lot of people think we’re liberal but a lot of liberals also think we’re too conservative um uh and so a lot of times when i’m talking with people or reaching out to people i’ll say i’ll make a point like hey you’re not talking to the new york times today you’re talking to me you’re talking to brian rosenthal and you know they can complain about past coverage and i’ll say well that that wasn’t this is our opportunity to set the record straight here uh that wasn’t me who wrote that um and so i think it applies to students as well like what people want to the the people they want to talk to are people who are willing to listen and it doesn’t really matter where you’re coming from um it matters the attitude that you bring into the conversation um and so yeah i mean i think students actually do have have some advantages but also it’s really about what you’re bringing to it more than anything else Writing an oped britt so um first thank you so much for being here today i i’m really happy that i have the opportunity to listen to you speak um so my question was um how do you how much school how would you go about writing like a well-informed op-ed like what are what are the different what are the differences in research that would go into an op-ed versus like a different type of article like maybe like a hard news article yeah i’ve never written an op-ed um uh i’m almost thinking like back to my high school debate days of like what would be the most persuasive way to go about it i mean obviously when the difference i can tell you the difference is that an op-ed is trying to drive somebody to uncertain opinion or a certain action and that’s not my goal when i’m writing the story my goal i always think about my goal as being to expose something that’s happening and i i’m not really going to tell you how to think about it you can decide yourself how you want to think about it and i’m not going to tell you what to do about it you can decide what you want to do about it but i’m presenting you with this information about something that you know if i spend a lot of time on i probably think it’s important so so that’s the difference i mean in an op-ed obviously the similarity is you have to get people’s attention you have to keep their attention you have to keep them interested and i i think you have to form a a narrative that is clear and and consistent and nuanced i don’t think anybody certainly with an investigation if you if you don’t have the nuance in there people are going to write an off but i think that’s true for an op-ed too um and um also like mixing in data and and personal stories and logic i think it’s just really important so um it’s probably a terrible answer because i’ve never written an op-ed but that’s those are the things that popped into my head Miscarriage of justice so i notice that um in some of the articles you’ve written for the times the the they aren’t op-eds like you say but some of the titles are certainly um a bit provocative like andre yang promised to create a hundred thousand jobs he ended up with 150. there’s obviously some implicit sort of angle there at least that’s how that’s what my perception is um so it would seem to me that if if there’s something being exposed that that there’s sort of a presupposition that that there’s there’s some miscarriage of justice taking place and that it’s there’s some something which is unjust so um i’m curious what what you would say to that yeah i was wondering what the question was gonna be um yeah i mean i think we any anytime you as i said you choose to write something especially if you spend a lot of time on it that is like saying something itself right and um we we put it on the front page that’s saying something itself um and the headlines absolutely i don’t actually write the headlines reporters don’t like the headlines um but but yeah i mean that’s that’s all true um i i i think that i guess what i what i s where i see the distinction is that like i don’t have a problem as an investigative journalist saying that something is bad or deserves attention um like you know kids being harmed is bad like we can all agree on that like it’s not compromising journalistic objectivity to say a kid with autism should get help um with services uh so i think that the difference is um that uh i am coming at it from a place of showing what’s happening um and not not um like okay let me let me uh you know we’ve kind of backed into this question in it in an interesting way with the question about op-ed but you know if i am reporting on something and i find that the evidence or the truth is actually not what i thought it was or it is mostly what i thought it was but there was some conflicting evidence as a journalist i as a as a as a news reporter in the investigation i’m going to be grappling with that and discussing that um and um being open about that and i’ll if it’s if it shows that the whole story isn’t true then i won’t even do this to it um i’m not sure you would get that in an op-ed right like they are going to look at the the evidence in whatever way they can to make the point that they’re trying to make and so from my perspective i’m actively trying not to do that um like i am if i encounter evidence against what i’m saying then i put that into the story does that make sense i have a question is the difference kind of in in our in our field in academic publishing there are people who whose primary work is to collect evidence and bring facts to light and there might be opinion encoded in it but the primary purpose of the pieces that they create is to bring out evidence and then there are others who the primary piece is to frame evidence that has been brought out by other people so one is saying here’s some stuff you never knew and an op-ed piece is this is what you’ve already known and here’s how you should think about it is that maybe the difference or yeah i mean i i think that’s part of it i but i also think that i mean we do a lot a lot of what what i do as an investigative journalist is framing of information that is out there um so it’s not it’s not an absence of framing necessarily um i i don’t know that that’s what what it hinges on i think it hinges on the like what is your goal i mean that that is ultimately how i think about it if your goal is to say something that’s happening in the world in in my opinion that’s your journalist journalism and if your goal is to move somebody to a specific emotion or an accident i think that’s opinion um and so a lot of it in my opinion is just in in the process and how you approach it and it’s one of those things that you can’t really it’s not like there’s a there’s some checklist that that you can do an easy definition that this is um you know news because it has these five things and this is opinion because it doesn’t um it’s a little more subjective than that unfortunately ryan you got a question Future media yeah sure i know you have me thinking about questions about this now but i had something different um but maybe we can come back to that um you are obviously printing in you know the new york times this is uh the premier place to put your printed word whether it’s online or in the paper or at least one of them um what do you think about other kinds of media do you do you have podcasting do you believe in like television or and you know like one theme is i think it’s overrated but people say you know printed word is dead and all that stuff i don’t think that’s happened quite yet but do what do you think about like the future media or using other media to get your story and work out there i think it’s great um i i mean with the taxi project we did an episode of of the new york times tv show the weekly um well i also was on the daily podcast and honestly doing the daily and doing that weekly episode were some of the most fun parts of the whole whole thing i mean it’s a it’s a it was new to me um but uh you reach a different audience and you can do some different things it’s kind of a different type of storytelling um i think it’s great i mean i’m definitely not wedded to print i i don’t we don’t subscribe to the print new york times we don’t subscribe to any print anything even though my partner works for kind and asks the magazine company um we read everything online and and to me the great thing about the internet is it’s what so many more people are reading the work that journals are producing and that’s really the bottom line um or i should say consuming the work with these different mediums but i really don’t think the medium matters what matters is reaching people and so these other mediums are a huge benefit because they help with that jason Dealing with skeptical sources hi yeah thanks it’s been you’ve been so articulate about your work and i think it’s going to be incredibly helpful for our students who will who are here now but also will watch it later and i’m thinking about them when when i ask this question and it’s about sources who probably won’t want to talk to you because they don’t want this story out and i’m wondering kind of how you handle that i imagine it takes different shapes i’m wondering if you have a particular story that might kind of illuminate how you deal with uh you know unwilling sources or skeptical sources and that might kind of give students some advice yeah i mean i think it depends it depends on the source um and i think the approach can differ um i i’m thinking about a story i did in texas about the agricultural commissioner uh who was using taxpayer money to um to uh fly to another state to get this crazy medical procedure done called the jesus shot look it up it was a crazy story um and in that case i knew if i called him and said hey i’m a reporter with the houston chronicling i would like to i’m writing about your this terrible thing that you did where you are illegally using taxpayer money to go and get a stupid medical procedure and do you have a comment about that like that wouldn’t have worked um what i ended up doing is i i caught him out at an event where he was um you know just among the people and i said hey you know i told him who i was i said i’m a reporter with houston chronicle hey i heard that you just went to oklahoma to get the jesus shot how was it um and he’s like you know it actually worked out pretty well for me um so sometimes you have you it’s a matter of of the approach and going in and you know you wouldn’t want to do the first thing that i i mocked a second ago anyway because not only would it be ineffective but it’s not really fair either i mean it’s not you’re not really listening to that person’s perspective and a lot of times i try and go in i mean my general strategy is to go in with openness genuine openness to what they have to say and also confidence that i’m gonna do the story no matter what and so i mean you said they wouldn’t want to talk to me because they don’t want me to do this story well i mean i i’ve a lot of times i say like hey we’re writing this story no matter what it’s your choice whether your perspective is included or not i i want to include those perspectives that will make me very happy if you make the choice that i don’t get to do that and i only have to have one side of the story i don’t think that’s good for either of us but that’s a choice that you get to make um and all i can tell you is i’ll listen to what you have to say and i will give it serious thought um and that works most of the time um so that that is something i say a lot um you know i also um when i’m talking to i think there’s a question that just came in about talking to um uh how do you organize to classify info make connect okay i’ll get to that in a second um when i’m talking to victims or um you know more people who it’s not a matter of getting their perspective in it’s a matter of do they want to open up and and let me in um which i thought this question was about but uh when i’m doing that i the thing that i stress is again that i want to genuinely listen to them but also that they are not the only one who this happened to and if they want to help other people this is a real opportunity for them to do so um so those are kind of like my two go-to lines depending on who this source is um should i answer this question in the chat yeah sure why not yeah when you reach the tactic drivers at airports how do you classif how do you organize or classify the information from your initial interview and make it connected to all parties what do you mean by connected gee do you wanna do you wanna uh wanna explain it i can’t find the right word to talk about connect how do you um how do you know uh how do you know those parties um would be kind of responsible for this issue are you are you asking like how does he know how to organize the information that he gets like does he develop a framework for a story before he goes into the field is that yeah it’s the first part is data collection information collection and second part is how how could he um authenticate these infos and uh what are the other parties would be responsible in this issue yeah sure i mean i’ll mostly tackle the second half of that i mean on the first in terms of um i mean i talked about organization i also i do think before i go into anywhere where i’m collecting data or collecting information which is what an interview ultimately is um i do try and have a strategy for it about what exactly i’m trying to get out of it um and think about again what’s the most effective way that that that person is going to give me the information um as far as authentication it’s a great question um taxi drivers specifically uh i everybody who’s in that story that is confirmed with documents um when we feature somebody in a story like that we do insist on you know complete transparency and i’m not going to include some that you have a 50 000 loan for example unless you can show me the paperwork of your fifty thousand dollar loan and i’m i also tell them that hey just so you know it’s not that i don’t trust you but my job is i have to verify everything and and so i will be calling the bank to make sure that this is israel and and we do that um you know we would never include um anything well i i i guess i’m i careful about the word never because i’m i’m thinking about um there there might be some instances where we would say you know so-and-so said this so that though they were not able to provide any documentation or something you know if we if we would to to publish it we would we would have to say that um but but for the most part we would not publish anything unless we had received independent verification of it and and if they don’t have the ability to do that you know they’re probably in i mean in the case of a taxi store there were thousands of other people who could so a lot of times it’s just a matter of okay well we’re gonna have to talk to somebody else you snap a photo with your camera is that how you like document these things you just like take photos or often yeah um that is that is the power of the phone yeah johnny had another question johnny Leaving preconceived notions yeah while we’re on the subject of of calling um have you ever encountered a situation where you’ve called a party you’ve believed to be in the wrong and left the phone call with an entirely different perspective on the issue and as sort of a corollary to that could you speak to the importance of leaving all your preconceived notions of a situation at the door when you make these calls yeah well the answer is yes um and i’m i’m trying to think of an example i could say because like if we ultimately found that it was not true like i don’t want to like say like an allegation against somebody that wasn’t even true um but uh you know i’m thinking for example about um uh [Music] well recently you know i had spent so much time investigating the taxi industry and i got an anonymous tip from somebody who said well you really should look at the head of the taxi workers alliance which is this this union that says it supports taxi drivers but actually fill in bad stuff that was in this anonymous tip um and we took it very seriously because we were like well we have actually a special obligation to look into this because we spent so much time you know they were sorts of hours and um we we want to bend over backwards to make it to look into this um and i really thought we were going to be writing a story about it um and i was you know proud of how seriously we were taking it um and then we called them and they gave us proof that it was not true and so we didn’t we didn’t do that story um so anyway um that happens obviously it happens on a smaller scale with with different things all the time um yeah absolutely it happens i mean in terms of going in with an open mind it’s really a matter [Music] of getting the the best story because i mentioned before nuance i mean the world is nuanced the world is not black and white the world is gray um and so if you go in with a black and white mentality you’re going to come out with a story that is black and white and is not first of all not true but also not compelling you know as i alluded to earlier because it doesn’t you know you just can’t um um you can’t make up things and have for the most part in my opinion and have it ring true to people um and so yeah no go ahead i’m sorry i didn’t mean to interrupt you i i was just gonna well i was gonna say is it that like it’s hard to come up with a story from your imagination that you haven’t already heard before and probably when you look at information you have the chance of developing an actually novel story that somebody hasn’t already told you is that kind of what’s going on there the truth is i mean we’re not obviously we’re not even talking about making things up but we’re just talking about when you have a kind of rigid mentality about one side being completely right and or one side being completely wrong it’s just it’s not going that’s not the way that life really is and it’s it’s not gonna the i truly believe that the most compelling stories are the true to life stories yeah if life is stranger to fixing right you you can’t make it up and so you have to kind of embrace all that that nuance in my opinion and um so yeah i mean that’s that’s the biggest reason why i think that’s so important i mean and it also is like the job um and it’s that that is what we’re taught to do and we take that very seriously we have a question from the chat box from my colleague annie vladrich who’s Most difficult situation an ethnographic researcher and faces similar questions or situations to yours she asks what’s the most difficult situation you’ve ever faced while doing your investigative work and how did you manage to get you know get what you wanted how did you manage to deal with it hi brian actually i have i have one of those bad hair days and i’m from argentina so i don’t want you to to get a bad impression but i i learned from the things i do wrong the most and lots of the things you’re talking about as things that we face when hi i’m here to understand how you sell at botanicas for instance how you sell mercury you cannot address it that way right so um so i’ve been in myself in very difficult situations and sometimes it’s discouraging and sometimes you want to change and switch gears to a different topic so i was thinking what is that a hot situation that uh probably marked your life on another day i can share mine but this is your podium today yeah i i appreciate it and and i’ve certainly had um had difficult situations have have stories that i haven’t been able to nail down um you know that’s that’s what kind of pops into my head first i’m trying to think of a good answer for you for you frankly um but the first thing that pops into my head is just you know the stories that have have gotten away i mean there was a story when um eric sniderman the former attorney general um was in the news because the new yorker published that he was um a domestic abuser um we were working on that story as well and we were working on um we we had some other um allegations related to that that we were looking into again i don’t i don’t want to uh share it too much specifically because we were not able to prove it and it was a really big story at the time and we really wanted to do it and we just couldn’t we had some sources but we just couldn’t get the collaboration that we that we needed to so that was frustrating you know that type of thing happens often um again you don’t read about that you don’t read about the the two months that that we spent that was a total waste of time um i’m trying to think about a situation with an investigation where there was a piece of information that was very difficult and you know we had a creative way to to get at it um you know i don’t i don’t think this is an answer to your question but but i’m going to say it anyway um because it was it was a big challenge and we did manage to get around it with creativity um which is that we were trying to prove that with the taxi story that um a large number of tax drivers have been financially ruined by um the predatory lending that was going on and of course we’d talk to taxi drivers but that was anecdotal um and we wanted to put some numbers on it and we kept hearing that taxi drivers had filed for bankruptcy and i really wanted to put a number on just how many taxi drivers had filed for bankruptcy and that is harder than you think it is um because it’s not like when you file for bankruptcy there’s a box that you check that’s like taxi driver yes or no and that’s tabulated somewhere that you can look at it um and you can’t even i mean there are way too many bankruptcy filings to go through each one individually and look at the assets that they’re listing and you can’t even do well i’ll tell you what we ended up doing um we ended up getting a list of all the taxi drivers about all the people who owned tax step and down now sets of lists didn’t actually exist but there was a list of people who had bought taxi medallions over the years and so we kind of used that as a proxy list um even though it included a bunch of extra names because people had bought it and sold and you know whatever and um but we kind of cobbled together those this list and we then we actually hired a software company to compare it to the bankruptcy filings list and um so we had a list of like 50 000 taxi drivers um and we compared it to the you know 500 000 people who had filed for bankruptcy and we were trying to match up the names um and we got about 3 000 matches um which is great except that was the easy part because there could be a taxi driver named john smith and somebody who filed for bankruptcy named john smith and how would you know that the person that filed for bankruptcy was the taxi driver john smith so we had to go through each of those three thousand individually and we we did end up going through all of those filings to look at the people who listed taxes as their assets or talk to their lawyers we found some lawyers who were um doing a lot of these types of cases and so you know we were making hundreds of calls we were looking at thousands of filings and at the end of the day we were able to determine that about 950 taxi drivers had filed for bankruptcy um and that became a line in the story um so we spent i i had a team helping me with this and we spent months on this and it became one sentence in the story so when i talk about like tedious stuff like that that’s what i mean but obviously that was difficult and we had to be creative so i don’t know maybe that’s a helpful answer oh it’s a super it’s a super relatable story for anybody who’s doing doing research that’s for sure professionally um we’re almost out of time and there was one question that i wanted to make sure that we got in so a lot of us we deal with young people who aspire to be journalists but any type of content creator uh you know they’re just expressive types and they want work in media or something like that and i wanted to ask you do you have any advice generically for any young person who wants to be in an expressive profession Life advice but they don’t really know where and they don’t really know how can you give them you know just some something to put the wind in their sails a little piece of life advice that might help them on that journey i don’t know about life advice um but i can tell you that um i’ll tell you what i did when i was trying to figure out what type of journalist i wanted to be and i wanted and i became interested in investigative journalism um and i wanted to become an investigative journalist um i think you need to read a lot um or i mean if you’re interested in a different creative field consume the type of content that you want to produce and what what i did which was important to me was consuming a lot of journalism and trying to figure out what stuck with me what moved me and then tried to deconstruct how they were able to do that and if i thought that i could do it and i i mean i still do this today like if i read an article that i find to be really compelling or really well done or powerful i will read it multiple times i will read it slowly and i will make it into a game i i will try and figure out okay how did the reporter get that piece of information who is the source that gave it to him how did they find that source how did they convince that source to talk to them um what did they say to the source to get them to give them that information and and why did they choose to write it that way why did they choose to put it in that place after that sentence and before that sentence um and i i try to figure out what um they did and then quite honestly i just copy it i i don’t copy the words obviously but i copy the process that i imagine that they went through and it’s a crazy thing but you realize that it’s really not that complicated and you can do anything that any professional content creator is doing um you just have to kind of force yourself to do it and with any type of content creation you’ll get better you’ll find your voice and you’ll become more effective the more that you do it and so your goal is just to do as much as you can and and things should work out all right one last question from jason okay that was a great answer and i just want to say we have a workshop with knight news writers next week and i’m going to have them take one of your articles and do exactly what you just described because it’s going to be great for them and i i just want to point out that i think what that answer about reading and kind of deconstructing the article complements something else you said earlier which was noteworthy that you did internships with five different papers and that through that you establish relationships with people that really led to your career indeed brian brian rosenthal is an investigative journalist with the new york times a pulitzer prize award winner and somebody who is very generous to aspiring journalists uh with us and in general uh so i’m very very grateful for the time that you gave us and just for what you do for you know the young people who are coming up because you’re you’re known for that so thank you very much uh brian uh it was really great to meet you and learn from you thanks joseph all right we’re gonna end the live stream hold on