NewsChannel 5's Guide for Do-It-Yourself Investigations - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5's Guide for Do-It-Yourself Investigations

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The government belongs to all of us, not just journalists.  If you want to know how your government operates, you have the right to investigate, too.

But most people don't know where to begin.  That's where this guide can help. 

And, of course, if you find wrongdoing, we want you to contact NewsChannel 5 Investigates first.

First of all, anyone can use Tennessee's public records law to ask for documents from a state or local government agency.  You can ask to see police arrest records, court records, spending records and the like. 

You can invoke the law by going to a government official, stating orally or in writing that you are making a public records request.

To read more about how to use the law, check out this Open Government Guide prepared by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. 

There's also information on the site maintained by the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.

Here are some on-line sources for obtaining information from the government and other sources, grouped by areas of interest:

Business/Consumer:

Check out a local business through the Better Business Bureau website.  You can also file a complaint with the BBB. 

Other resources can be found through the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs.  It also offers a place to file a complaint.

Search the Department of Commerce's licensed professionals lists -- such as accountants, real estate agents, contractors, security guards, cosmetologists, pharmacists, private investigators, etc. -- to see if someone is licensed.

Crime/Justice:

Check to see if someone has a felony record in Tennessee through the Tennessee Department of Correction website.

Look up a sex offender through the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation website.  You can also look up meth offenders on the TBI's website.

You can read opinions from the Tennessee Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Appeals at the Administrative Office of the Courts website.

Find one of Tennessee's district attorneys general here.  Tennessee's U.S. attorneys are listed here.  Federal judges for the Middle District of Tennessee are here

If you need a lawyer, check out the Tennessee Bar Association's lawyer referral page.

To look up a state law, go to this website for the Tennessee Code Annotated.

The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference has a list of law enforcement links.

Education:

Search for information on a person who is licensed to teach in Tennessee.

Tennessee public schools are listed here.

Health:

How does a nursing home compare to other such facilities?  Go to the federal government's Nursing Home Compare website.

Is a hospital or other health care facility accredited?  Click here to find out.  (Accreditation is considered by many industry experts to be relatively easy to obtain, so it would be more interesting if the facility is not accredited.)

Search for information on the backgrounds, including disciplinary history, of Tennessee health professionals (such as doctors, dentists, nurses, etc.)

Check restaurant inspection scores or grocery store inspection scores.  (Keep in mind that an establishment may get a bad score and be required to undergo a re-inspection.  The state then posts that re-inspection score on its website.)

Non-profits:

How is a charity spending its money?  Check for its tax returns at guidestar.org or with the Better Business Bureau or CharityNavigator.org.

Tennessee's secretary of state lists information on registered charities.

People Finders:

Need to look up a person's phone number or address?  Try anywho.com.  Have a phone number, but need a name or address? Use anywho's reverse lookup.

Search every piece of property in the state through this state web site.  Searches must be done by county.  If you're only interested in Davidson County, you can go directly to the Metro Planning Department website and actually get maps.

Politics/Government:

Search for campaign contributions to federal candidates and committees through opensecrets.org.

Some information on campaign contributions to state candidates can now be found through the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance's web site.

Look up a lobbyist registered in Tennessee.

County election commissions can be located through the state Division of Elections.

Call a state lawmaker by looking up Senate members or House members.  Check the legislature's web site for information on pending bills and streaming video.

Look up officials in all Tennessee counties through UT's County Technical Assistance Service.

Find a phone number for a Tennessee state government employee through the state's web site.

Searches/Reference:

Google is probably the best, but don't limit yourself just to it; even Google has its limits.  Other good options are: MSN Search and DogpileTake the time to read the instructions on how to frame your searches.  It will help you develop more effective searches.

(Please e-mail the NewsChannel 5 Investigates team if you find a link that is no longer working.)

Back to NewsChannel 5 Investigates

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