New site consolidates databases for faster searches

Jan 13, 2016

By AnnMarie Welser
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary

SEATTLE, WA—In the electronically connected world of today, information flows fast. Journalists, the bridge between the public and their news, must search through the facts to find the stories people want to read. But, with millions of records to search through, finding the useful facts can take hours. But readers want the story now, and journalists are pressured to report the facts faster. With the help of a new website, the searching may have become easier.

Sqoop is a modern day database transmitter. Pronounced “scoop,” it is aptly named because Sqoop helps reporters scoop a story. This free site acts as a simple way to tackle the time-consuming task of record searching. Rather than spending countless hours conducting identical, monotonous searches across an assortment of public databases, Sqoop puts that information in one place.

The site has combined three main public record sources to begin with: the Security Exchange Commission, the Patent Office and most of the federal courts. Sqoop allows journalists to quickly search through the databases, giving them a faster way to establish the facts of a story.

Sqoop co-founder Bill Hankes said he was actually searching for a better way to improve the public relations process. After surveying reporters, who sometimes receive upwards of 200 e-mails a day, he learned that many business reporters spend hours searching out information on a particular company. The search time saved by using the site, he said, translates into revenue for the media company and allows reporters to write more stories people want to read.

Not only business reporters use his new site, but also investigative reporters, and even entertainment reporters are finding it useful.

“Celebrities have a tendency of ending up in court,” he explained.

At least 1,400 journalists have registered on the free site, so far.

“That’s about 20 percent of all business reporters,” Hankes said. The site is expanding with about 30 percent to 40 percent growth month over month since starting last March. The week before his interview, Hankes said there were 3,900 searches made on the site. And that does not include the automatic alerts reporters have set up, letting them know if one of the companies they’re following has filed any public documents.

Hankes said he does the marketing and finance for the mostly self-funded site, while the brains of the operation, David Kellum, handles the search and data extraction software.

The University of Missouri is on board with Sqoop. The RJI futures lab discovered Sqoop shortly after its startup. The university looks for ways to improve journalism and notes that Sqoop can play a part in that. Some students have found it a good resource.

“Sqoop sounds like an incredibly helpful tool for journalists. I know that when I’m writing, I spend so much time Googling different things, and if I had to do much more research, which I’m sure I’ll do a lot of when I start my career, I would want a much faster and more convenient way to search through databases,” said sophomore Hannah Black.

Hankes worked in three different newsrooms early in his journalism career. He recently worked in various communication positions: as director of Bing public relations at Microsoft; and vice president of corporate communications at RealNetworks; as well as other communications roles for a variety of consumer and enterprise technology companies.

The site helps journalists find records quickly by disentangling public records, as well as sending out alerts. Journalists who use Sqoop can also receive notifications on the type of documents—based on specific keywords or companies they would like to be updated on.

The site describe itself as “The News Discovery Network” and is fairly easy to navigate.

The company is testing different forms of advertising on the website to ensure its economic survival. Hankes said he firmly believes the website should remain free and intends to use sponsored posts in hopes to lower the barriers to data-based journalism. The website plans to accept advertising from companies and publicists who want to get their messages to interested journalists.

Hankes noted that the site recently released a new series of features intended to help reporters find what they’re looking for faster and more narrowly refine the alerts they receive from Sqoop.

“We think this could save you time and also help you uncover news more easily,” he said. “We’ve added filters on the left-hand side of the search results page to help you dynamically refine search results by form type, e.g., SEC 8-Ks, or 14As, patent applications or grants, and filings from district, bankruptcy or appellate courts.

“Not only does this help you find what you’re looking for faster in Sqoop search results, but it can also help you manage the number and timing of alerts you receive. Just because you have an alert set for a company you follow doesn’t necessarily mean you want to see every Form 4 the company files. Now you can either eliminate seeing them, or have them, and perhaps other less important filings, sent to you only once a day, for example.”

Additionally, the site has added some new SEC form types that some of site users have asked for. He also noted that he wants to include geographic searches, so that news media companies that cover large areas can learn about what is happening in those areas.