Data for trends: Census tools and polls

March 19th, 2018 by Jack Styczynski

As you prepare for your “trends” project, you should definitely peruse the Research Center guide on Data Resources (which includes sections on Census Tools and Polls), as well as the separate one on Mining Census Data.

The U.S. Census Bureau has one of the most valuable and densely-packed web sites you’ll encounter.  You’ll constantly find new information there that will amaze you with its obscurity and level of detail.  Below are some of my favorite Census Bureau pages.

  • First and foremost is American FactFinder, which includes annual American Community Survey data.  It’s the best place to get estimates since the last decennial census was undertaken.  You definitely should familiarize yourself with how to navigate this!
  • QuickFacts provides some broad statistics for states, counties, cities and towns.
  • Facts for Features and Stats for Stories are collections of statistics from the Census Bureau’s demographic and economic subject areas intended to commemorate anniversaries or observances or to provide background for topics in the news.

Additionally, some excellent “third party” sites aggregate Census Bureau data.  Below are a few of my favorites.

Opinion polls are also a great way to detect trends in the population.

Warnings about polls: Many times there are concerns about the credibility or methodology of a pollster, so be cautious of sources.  Also remember that polls always have a margin of error, which you should cite.  Here are 20 questions journalists should ask about poll results.

Bonus tip: The J-school also subscribes to Statista, a searchable database of statistics, studies, dossiers, infographics and more, from over 100,000 vetted sources.

Backgrounding people, businesses and non-profits

March 9th, 2018 by Jack Styczynski

Of all the research topics we teach here at the J-school, backgrounding is among the most important. Certainly, not doing proper backgrounding has great potential to make you look bad. You don’t want to do a friendly story on someone, only to be burned by not doing proper backgrounding.

My rather glib definition of backgrounding is “searching for information about people they don’t want you to know.” I do it as a matter of course in my job as a news researcher, but reporters should be able to do for themselves too.

You’ve already learned of some resources that will help you do backgrounding. For starters, you can do general article searches on people, businesses or non-profits in Nexis, Factiva or Access World News, as there will often be something written about controversial (or criminal) topics. Furthermore, you can search court databases for civil and criminal cases, using the resources in the Research Center guides for court records and criminal histories at both the federal and state level. (This blog has similar guides for both court and crime research, albeit somewhat dated.)

For this lesson, I want to point you to the Research Center’s public records guide and review some of the resources I think are most useful.

For people:

  • Accurint and TLO are undoubtedly the top resources for backgrounding individuals, as each provides a comprehensive compilation of public records (including criminal), contact and family information on a person. Both are available by subscription only and we do not have access to TLO here at the J-school, but you can visit Barbara Gray in the Research Center to have an Accurint report run.
  • Although there are other kinds of records you might seek on a person, checking for criminal records is the most common type of “backgrounding.” For the incarcerated, you can check inmate locators at the federal, New York State and New York City level. (For other state and county jurisdictions, check here, here and here.) In New York State, you can also check WebCriminal for court information on criminal cases with future appearance dates in many jurisdictions.
  • There are separate databases for sex offenders. You can do a National Sex Offender Search or search at the state level, including New York. One useful secondary source is Family Watchdog, where you can search for registered sex offenders in a neighborhood by address.
  • For more resources, this blog has a backgrounding handout, although again, it’s somewhat dated.

For businesses:

For non-profits:

Bonus tip: While a 990 filing is a good way to find salaries for non-profit executives, public employee salaries are also often available through sites such as the New York City civil list and SeeThroughNY. You can find similar databases around the nation at PIbuzz, including Congressional staff salaries.

Occupational Safety project

February 28th, 2018 by Jack Styczynski

Here are the resources I cited in class yesterday:

Finding video and graphical archives

February 23rd, 2018 by Jack Styczynski

Looking for video online?  Of course, there’s YouTube and the like, but what about professional databases with substantial broadcast archives?  The J-school has subscriptions to such databases, which also feature superior search functionality.

  • TVEyes (student login info here) allows you to search TV programming from many networks via closed captioning, which along with getting video can also serve as an alternative method of getting (rough) transcripts not available in databases like Nexis and Factiva.  (I’m also aware of the similar services Critical Mention, ShadowTV and Volicon, which we don’t have.)
  • Whereas the services above allow viewing of recent broadcasts, the Vanderbilt Television News Archive is a deeper archive of news broadcasts from major national sources–with streaming video available from CNN and NBC, and DVD ordering available from all sources.  Also, keep in mind that a broadcast operation will usually have its own internal archive.  At NBC, the searchable database is known as Media Central.
  • Although they don’t qualify as a professional subscription databases, the Internet Archive also has useful TV News, moving image and ephemeral film collections that you might explore.

Regarding graphical print archives, there are many more places to go.

  • We have access to PDF archives of the New York Times and Amsterdam News (via “Black Newspapers”) through the J-school’s subscription to ProQuest.  Dates of coverage vary.  In addition, the Brooklyn Public Library provides free access to PDF archives of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from 1841 to 1955 via, which also has varying archives from more than 6,000 papers worldwide that you can access by visiting the Research Center and asking to use our subscription. Elsewhere on a national scale, the Library of Congress has a collection of newspapers from most states (including New York), ranging from 1789 to 1949.
  • You can get PDFs of current newspaper front pages around the world from the Newseum.  Archives are also available for selected dates.  Only front pages, though.
  • We have access to many magazine and journal PDF archives through the J-school’s subscriptions to BrowZine, EBSCO MasterFILE, Gale Academic OneFile and JSTOR, which are aggregator databases similar to Nexis and Factiva, but are not limited to text only.  Also, CUNY and the J-school maintain lists of where you can obtain articles by publication name, many of which are in PDF format.
  • You can get PDF archives of the Economist, JAMA, Nature, the New England Journal of Medicine and Science via separate web sites courtesy of J-school subscriptions.  Again, varying dates of coverage.
  • has PDF archives of several magazines that are not under copyright.  You have to peruse the list of titles to see which are available.
  • Google Books has scanned archives of many magazines, popular and otherwise.  Billboard, Ebony, Jet, Life, New York, Spin and Vibe might be especially useful, but there are plenty more.  These aren’t completely up to date, but do have deep archives.  On screen images only, though.  No PDF downloads.  Similarly, Google News has scanned archives of many newspapers, including the Village Voice.  Same deal with the lack of downloads.

This is the warning NBC uses for the sites above:  THESE SITES ARE FOR REFERENCE ONLY.  You will be connecting to external sites and all images must be cleared for on-air use, regardless of source. If you have questions, please contact the Rights & Clearances Department.

Bonus tip: Looking for photos?  The New York City Department of Records Municipal Archives has an online photo gallery of over 900,000 images.

Hey, y’all. “Research Party Central” is back in the building!

January 20th, 2018 by Jack Styczynski

Welcome to “The Craft of Research,” the official research blog for the Spring 2018 Craft class of Susan Farkas and Kayle Hope. It’s the spot for research lessons, handouts, news, tips and whatever else comes up during the semester, including links to your work.

My name is Jack Styczynski and I’m a researcher at NBC News. I previously taught at the J-school from 2008 to 2013 before leaving to serve two years as a Tulane VISTA at Youth Rebuilding New Orleans. Along with AmeriCorps and the Big Easy, I love basketball (both playing and writing about) and hitting the dance floor, so if you want to get on my good side, you know what topics to raise. 😜

Here’s to a great spring semester!

Enjoying beautiful flora at the front desk of Youth Rebuilding New Orleans.

Enjoying beautiful flora at the front desk of Youth Rebuilding New Orleans.

Hello, WRKF!

June 25th, 2015 by Jack Styczynski

Thanks to J-school alum Ann Marie Awad for inviting me to speak about people finding and backgrounding, finding experts and unearthing statistical and demographic data. Since my old research lessons are somewhat CUNY-centric, I put together a Louisiana and Baton Rouge supplement…

There’s nothing I love more than being at a radio station!

Hamming it up with Ann Marie!

Hamming it up with Ann Marie!

I still blog!

November 30th, 2013 by Jack Styczynski

Anyone looking for updates on how I’m doing in New Orleans, click here!

As part of his 50-state volunteering trip, Chris Strub interviews me about YRNO.

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July 9th, 2013 by Jack Styczynski

As of July 2013, I’m an AmeriCorps VISTA at Tulane’s Center for Public Service, working with Youth Rebuilding New Orleans.  Part of my job is volunteer coordination, so if any of y’all ever want to have some fun and help rebuild my most beloved city, be it for a day, a week or a month, just shout and I’ll set you up right!

Thanks to everyone for five great years at the J-school!  This blog should stay up as an archive of all the material I taught over that time.  I hope it remains useful to you.

In case you missed it, I left New York with a bang, writing about my pickup hoops life, “having coffee” with a fellow researcher and celebrating with friends at one heck of a farewell blast. Witness the evidence below!

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Farewell, my friends!

May 25th, 2013 by Jack Styczynski

It was obviously a busy final month of the semester…

On the News Service, Ilie Mitaru, Lisa Rinehart and Anna Teregulova contributed to stories.  Previously, Mathilde Hamel and Angela Johnson reported on the increase in adoptions by same-sex couples, while Sierra Leone Starks reported on the rise in crowdfunding efforts for movie projects

In addition, Sierra Leone’s piece about plans for a design-to-manufacturing fashion house in Industry City landed in Brooklyn Based.

Meanwhile, Mathilde’s talents were on display in both the April and May editions of 219 West TV Magazine, as she co-anchored the first and filed stories for both.  Furthermore, Aine Pennello filed a story in April and Nadja Thomas had one in May.

Happy summer, and much love to you all!

Quiz recap

May 19th, 2013 by Jack Styczynski

The quiz results are in and I would call the overall performance “typical.”  There was a wide variation in grades.  Congratulations to the high scorers–Orie Givens, Aine Pennello and Divya Verma.  Aine and Divya each missed one question, while Orie was perfect (with 10 minutes to spare!), minus the bonus.

For the record, no one got the bonus, so I’ll assume you thought “mandatory viewing” only applied if it came from the professor’s mouth, not Jonathan Dienst’s (LOL).  Anyway, you can see the answer if you watch segment 17 from the PBS Frontline series “News War”, which can be found in part three.

Of the regular questions, there were several that gave many of you problems, starting with the one on Pete Thamel’s biggest mistake.  Even if you forgot our class discussion, I did write about it later and post a link on the blog.  As I’ve said, the blog is not for my own health.  I was also somewhat disappointed a bunch of you didn’t get full credit on the query about the two basic questions for fact-checking, which was right there on my post of February 13th.  Easiest question on the quiz, IMO.

What else tripped you up?  Well, most of you knew to go to the Vanderbilt Television News Archive and ProQuest respectively for the questions about Nixon’s resignation video and New York Times front page headlines from my birthday, but made mistakes when you got there.  A lot of you provided video links for something other than the NBC evening newscast on August 9, 1974 and headlines from stories on November 18, 1965 that appeared somewhere other than the front page.  ProQuest does have a way to limit your search to front page stories, folks.  We used the advanced search to do this in class.

Next, the two questions where I asked for separate answers that were supposed to come from the same place obviously caused some confusion.  The answers on births and baby names were at the latest Mother’s Day compilation of the Census Bureau’s Facts for Features, and the poll numbers on background checks for gun buyers could be found in the guns section at Polling Report.  Both sources were listed on my post of March 11th.

Lastly, the Bernard Madoff question proved to be one of the most difficult, for whatever reason.  Many of you missed it entirely, while others gave me a Manhattan Supreme court case where he was a plaintiff (for which I did award credit), but what I really wanted was the case where he was a defendant from the SCROLL database, as we called it up in class before heading out to NBC.

Anyway, thanks for a memorable semester, friends.  I’ll have one last roundup of your work posted soon.