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Reporters acquiring financial data?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Whatwhat, Mar 21, 2012.

  1. Whatwhat

    Whatwhat New Member

    First time poster, long time lurker:

    I came across this article from the USA Today tonight.


    The article details the bonuses that come with making the Sweet Sixteen. My question, how do they get this information? I realize for public schools it is supposed to be public information, but where can a reporter go to find federal tax returns online? Is it a request from the school type of thing?

    Furthermore, even if a public school has to provide that information (and emails, records, etc) upon request, who is to say the officials aren't altering the data?


    I've also noted that Darren Rovell is able to come up with obscure data, even from private schools? How is he able to get responses back so quickly from university officials?
  2. JRoyal

    JRoyal Well-Known Member

    Well, at the bottom of the story there's a line that tells you where it came from. Says "Sources: Individual schools." If you ask a public university for a contract, they have to provide it to you, though some schools will drag their feet, and they can charge for copying fees and such. And if any official were caught altering the data, they could face some legal charges beyond just losing their job. There are laws against that kind of thing.

    As for private schools, some of the information can be found on tax forms, but you won't get a full look at a contract there. And a lot of times this information has been reported somewhere, so you don't necessarily have to do much more than a Google search, though even then it's often not complete since it's a private school, and sometimes the reporter has no way of verifying it concretely since they don't have a copy of the actual contract.

    Also, this could be the case with Rovell, a reporter/newspaper/whatever could have a copy of the coaches for the schools they cover, so they can refer to it when they need to. So while it looks like they got it really fast, all they really did was open a file cabinet next to their desk. They did the hard work for it when each coach was hired.
  3. franticscribe

    franticscribe Well-Known Member

    All non-profits have to file a tax form called a 990 and they have to make the 990 available for inspection upon request. The 990 includes a considerable amount of financial information about the non-profit, including the amount of money paid to the five highest paid employees.

    The vast majority of private universities are operated as non-profits. And at most universities the football and men's basketball coaches are among the five highest paid employees. So you can find out some basic information about a coach's compensation by looking at the 990.

    That's not going to get you the contract, so you're not going to be able to see the outside compensation that never passes directly through the university's hands, nor are you going to be able to figure out performance bonuses. But that's the starting point for getting bfinancials from a non-profit.

    www.guidestar.org is a website that compiles 990s and makes them searchable.
  4. franticscribe

    franticscribe Well-Known Member

    Also, after reading the article, it only had information from public universities.

    To get those contracts you would need to file a public information request under each individual state's public information law. I imagine USA Today is routinely requesting those contracts throughout the year and that it was not something they attempted to do last minute, say, at the start of the tournament, because every state's law has different quirks including varying turnaround times for how long the record holder can take in responding to the request.
  5. Screwball

    Screwball Member

    Anyone who covers a public university should put in a public information request -- at the start of every school year, since contract terms can change -- for the contracts of the head football and basketball coaches and all of the assistants. There might be a story when you get the contracts. But, more importantly, when issues come up, you'll already know how much it would cost to get rid of the embattled coach, whether the assistants are really underpaid, all the bonuses and incentives, etc.

    Not a bad idea to do this for every public school in your conference, for the comparisons about coaches that inevitably arise.
  6. Whatwhat

    Whatwhat New Member

    What about for private schools? And the site that was provided above costs a fee to get the data.
  7. JRoyal

    JRoyal Well-Known Member

    As I said before, with private schools, data will almost always be incomplete. And Guidestar is free; you pay for more detailed reports. I'm registered and don't pay a dime. Register and search for something, and you can access the 990 form for group/school/whatever. That will list the highest paid employees somewhere on it. For universities, that should cover your football and men's basketball coaches, and maybe some assistants. However, it's always an incomplete number since it doesn't include other parts of the contract like TV/radio shows and such.
  8. franticscribe

    franticscribe Well-Known Member

    Guidestar is indeed free to get 990 access, but requires registration. There's also a short lag time between filing and when it gets uploaded into the database. But it has always served my needs.

    In the alternative, you can always go inspect the physical copy that the non-profit is required to make available for public inspection and copying at the non-profit's principal office.
  9. Moderator1

    Moderator1 Moderator Staff Member

    I'm doubting both those statements
  10. geddymurphy

    geddymurphy Member

    USA TODAY specializes in this:




    Valuable stuff, time-consuming work. Something that can help beat reporters immensely.
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