Still, there’s a clear take-away for other reporters coming to this beat: as you’re getting up to speed, don’t rely solely on the Times database (or any other single source). Other useful resources include both the Subsidy Tracker and state databases where they exist—like New York’s Public Authorities Information Reporting System, known as PARIS, which was not used by the Times. Then, of course, there are clip searches on Google and Nexis, and the accumulated knowledge of people and institutions who have been on this story for years.

Despite these objections, the Times package represents welcome attention to an often-overlooked problem. The series, and its thoughtful critics, should be read widely by journalists—many of whom, we hope, will tackle these subtle issues in their own markets.

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David Cay Johnston covers fiscal and budget matters for CJR’s United States Project. He is a reporter with 46 years of experience, including 13 at The New York Times; a columnist for Tax Analysts; teaches tax and regulatory law at Syracuse University Law School; and is president of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE). Follow him on Twitter @DavidCayJ.