Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Texas news sources and methods

A couple of folks in the last month asked that I blog on how I find information from around the state that appears on Grits, so I thought I'd share a few sources that help make looking for information easier. I might make this an occasional series on research sources and methods. Hope you find these links useful:

Texas criminal justice news:
Texas government info:
  • The Texas Legislature Online is the best and only free, public place to get information about pending and past legislation, going back many sessions. This site gets better every session, and this year was superior, in many ways, to paid subscription services.
  • The Texas House and Senate each have separate websites, both of which include live and archived video feeds (House, Senate) of floor and committee debates. (To find the video you want, get the date of the committee hearing by searching the bill number on the capitol website and looking for the hearing date under "Actions," or check the "Committee" pages on the House and Senate websites for meeting minutes to get a date. That's the information you need to look up the right video.)
  • Want to know which state representative's district covers Brownwood, or which state senator represents Lufkin? Use this helpful search tool.
  • The Texas House Research Organization also compiles lots of useful material, particularly bill analyses of most bills that are debated on the House floor, and the Legislative Budget Board has everything you'd want to know about the state budget online. All you need is the patience to hash through it all.
  • It's easy to look up Texas statutes, or search them by keyword.
  • The Texas Public Information Act is, like, really cool. Bloggers should use it more often. Hell, print and broadcast journalists should. I mean, government generates a LOT of documents, and in Texas the public gets to look at nearly all of them. Emails, faxes, phone logs, appointment calendars, message slips, databases, you name it. Learn more about how from the Texas Attorney General's open government division, or download a copy (pdf) of the AG's comprehensive open records handbook.
Can't tell the players without a program:
  • Look up Texas lobbyists by name or by client.
  • Look up Texas political action committees.
  • Look up political contribution and expenditure (C&E) information for state officials from the Texas Ethics Commission here, or use this more user friendly database run by a nonprofit. Federal contributions are online here.
  • C&Es for county officials including commissioners, judges, DAs, constables, county clerks, treasurers, etc., are all filed in paper copy form at the elections division of the county clerk, usually at the local county courthouse. C&Es for mayoral and city council races are on file at the city clerk.
Sources and methods:
  • If you're not using Google News' customized search term feature, start immediately. Most of us are only typically interested in a few topics related to work, our hobbies, whatever. If you go to Google News, click on the link to the right that says "Edit this Customized Page." You can delete the standard news headings off the toolbar to the left and create your own specific to the search terms you regularly monitor. (This has been a godsend monitoring drug task force scandals.)
  • The Alltheweb search engine seems to pick up news stories from rural papers Google misses.
  • I regularly look at three blogs -- Research Buzz (currently offline, but really useful), Search Engine Watch, and Searchblog -- that between them keep me up to speed, I feel like, on new information sources and search tools. PI Newslink also regularly links to interesting information sources, often criminal justice related.
Let me know of other useful information sources you know about.

2 comments:

Ross Ramsey said...

Here's another, more comprehensive list of media sites in Texas:

www.lib.utexas.edu/news/texas.html

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Cool, thanks!