Public records: An invaluable source of information

By  CONNIE FOSSI

It is a mistake for journalists to underestimate the information they can acquire from the government public records, especially in the Miami-Dade County Clerk website (http://www2.miami-dadeclerk.com), where you only need a full name and a date of birth to get key information about any of the residents or public officials of the county.

From traffic violations to marriage licenses, from criminal cases to real estate transactions, from lawsuits to birth certificates, the amount of information available in this website could result in major sources for a news story.

For my latest assignment, I was able to take advantage of the public records about a  candidate for office and I have to say that the most valuable information of my story came from just entering this person’s name in the public records search.

The secret to conduct a successful public records investigation is to know the full name of the person and most importantly how it is spell as well as the person’s date of birth in order to avoid confusions. A second tip is to be patient and have the time to open all the files available.

One of the most convenient aspects of this website is that it will provide all the existent documents related to the person you are investigating, without requiring a specific date, the name of all the parties involved or the type of transaction.

The good thing about this website is that the majority of the documents are free, printable and downloadable to the users’ computer, avoiding the process of going to the court or a governmental public record office to acquire the information you need.

As you can see, public records can be useful tools, which can represent an invaluable source of information and can even change the expectations of your story.

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