David Fahrenthold’s coverage of Donald Trump’s charities this year for The Washington Post stood out for its quality and depth. It also stood out the way he did his work. Mostly via Twitter, Fahrenthold asked his readers to be part of his journalism—direct contributors to his reporting—and he did so in an unusually transparent way.
He’s not the first to have used what some call crowdsourcing to deepen his sources and knowledge. But from my vantage point, as someone who’s paid attention to this kind of thing for many years, he’s taken it into new areas, notably by using social media in a particularly smart way. And his methods offer a lesson to others in journalism.
Many political reporters are intensely secretive about their process, remaining tight-lipped about the topics they’re interested in for fear of getting scooped. Fahrenthold, by contrast, asked his Twitter followers to help him with his reporting. He started doing this in early 2016, when he was trying to track down the veterans’ group or groups, if any, to which Trump had made a donation, as the candidate claimed he’d done. The campaign was either lying to him, or stonewalling, so he decided to dig on his own.
“I couldn’t call them all,” he told me. Instead, he tweeted at a number of veterans’ organizations to ask them if they’d gotten any donations from Trump. This technique drew attention from other journalists and other Twitter users, and Fahrenthold started hearing from more veterans’ organizations. None reported having been recipients of such gifts. Ultimately, and likely because of the public focus on this by the Post, Trump did donate some money, as Fahrenthold wrote in one of many follow-up stories to his initial reporting.