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Session 3: People Finding

Where is everybody? Let’s talk about some databases and social media tools that will help you find subjects and sources.

We’ll start with a recent example of people finding in action at the New York Times. Last month, Alton Alexander Nolen allegedly beheaded one former co-worker and stabbed another at a food processing plant in Oklahoma. A reporter asked the research department to help her find Nolen’s family and friends. To do this, we:

  • Ran an Accurint report on Nolen to find phone numbers and addresses for him and his relatives.
  • Looked for his family on Facebook.
  • Did a Nexis search to see what we could find about him. This led to the name of his high school football coaches and teammates, who gave the reporter a key break in the story: Nolen’s Facebook page.

(We also checked his criminal history with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and the Oklahoma courts, but we’ll talk about that later on in the semester.)

Using the J-School’s databases

Unfortunately, we don’t have open access to Accurint, but if you need to run a report, ask Barbara or Tinamarie at the Research Center. They can also help you with Nexis Public Records.

ReferenceUSA offers a fairly robust directory of phone numbers and addresses. You can also use it to find neighbors of your subject.

Spokeo also allows you to find people, phones and addresses, plus email and social media accounts. will help you find family connections, addresses, etc. The Times research department used it to find relatives of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown.

Using social media to find people

Facebook’s graph search is an invaluable tool for finding people and the connections between them. While privacy settings limit usefulness for journalists, you might be able to see the person’s friends, photos, etc. You can send messages directly to the person’s Facebook inbox (not the “other” folder) for a fee, currently $5.

LinkedIn is another great resource for people finding. A reporter recently asked the Times research department to help her find members of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. We did this in part by doing an advanced search on LinkedIn, which allows users to search by keyword, name, location, and current or past employment.

A few LinkedIn tips:

  • This Friday, October 10, LinkedIn’s Yumi Wilson will be at the J-School to give a LinkedIn for Journalists tutorial, possibly with free premium accounts for attendeees.
  • Join the LinkedIn for Journalists group. If you can’t make the tutorial on Friday, keep an eye out for the online version. This will get you a free year of LinkedIn Premium, which lets you send emails and do more advanced searches.
  • Check your settings at the top right. You want to view profiles anonymously.
  • Can’t see the name on a LinkedIn profile? Try doing a Google search using and a snippet from the profile.

Check Twitter to see what your subject has been tweeting and/or find friends of a crime victim. Try the advanced search to find tweets by location. This helped the Times researchers find victims of the UC-Santa Barbara shootings last spring.

And finally, if your subject has a website, you can often find his or her contact information by doing a “whois” lookup on Network Solutions, DomainTools, or a similar site.

Here are some additional people-finding resources:

And here’s a link to today’s drill.

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