Links to your work

March 1st, 2013 by Jack Styczynski

Presenting the semester’s first roundup of your work:

For the News Service, Danielle Valente and Karen Petree covered Nolcha Fashion Week.

Meanwhile, Brianne Barry and Elena Popina found some apparel controversy away from Fashion Week.

On Voices of NY, Anna Teregulova followed up on a Staten Island couple recovering from Superstorm Sandy, while Sierra Leone Starks reported on free Mandarin classes in Brooklyn.

And on The Local, Aine Pennello detailed Black Artstory month on Myrtle Avenue.

The bonus: I’ve gotten many research credits at the Times, but until this week my work had never been mentioned within a story!

Last word: I would be remiss if I didn’t offer my best wishes to departing Dean Steve Shepard.

Manti Te’o and the decline of research…

February 15th, 2013 by Jack Styczynski

In the last two classes I mentioned I was writing about a former Times colleague’s Manti Te’o research flub…and that the profession of news researcher is headed toward extinction, as Wonbo Woo agreed.

In both cases, I was referring to the same article, which you can now read here.

I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments section below!

Update: As my article has made the rounds of the research profession, it has come to my attention that a colleague wrote something similar in 1995.

Backgrounding & fact-checking, a.k.a. due diligence

February 13th, 2013 by Jack Styczynski

Backgrounding and fact-checking are related in the sense that they both fall under the umbrella of “due diligence” or “doing your homework.”  Of all the research topics we teach here at the J-school, this is probably the most important.  Certainly, not doing proper backgrounding and fact-checking has the most potential to make you look bad.  As I said in my introductory backgrounding lesson in Craft I, you don’t want to do a friendly story on someone, only to be burned by not doing proper backgrounding.  We already saw an example in class.

My rather glib definition of backgrounding is “finding out 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.

In the same vein, 100% factual accuracy in stories is a goal worth pursuing, no matter how tough it may be to achieve.  Among the most common kinds of facts that need to be checked and double-checked (and triple-checked!) in any story are statistics, names, dates, ages, quotations, locations, titles and degrees.  Preferably, you want to verify them via primary sources–as opposed to secondary–and then cite these sources, where appropriate.  Fact-checking really boils down to answering two basic questions…

  1. Are you sure?
  2. Says who?

If you crave a little more detail on fact-checking, a few good accuracy tip sheets can be found herehere, here, here and here.  And here is an example of what can happen if your fact-checking is lax.

What specific sources do I suggest?  (Wikipedia?  Ha ha.  No!)  While Accurint is undoubtedly my favorite backgrounding resource, there are plenty more you can use on my backgrounding handout, many (but not all) of which are also suitable for fact-checking.  I particularly recommend government resources, and premium subscription databases like we have through the Research Center.  One such database good for fact-checking is Facts on File, especially useful for finding dates and details of major events going back to 1940.

Then there are a whole host of court resources not on my backgrounding handout.

Again, keep in mind that primary sources are generally preferable to secondary sources, but that’s not to imply there aren’t unreliable primary sources or very reliable secondary ones.  For example, people could easily lie, exaggerate or make errors on their (primary) Facebook pages, while Facts on File is a strong secondary source.  And the more reliable sources you have for any fact, the better.  Relying on a single source is asking for trouble. 

Bonus fact-checking tip: Superlatives such as “only,” “never,” “first,” or “most” are often misleading and/or difficult to verify.  Use them judiciously.

Double bonus: Barbara Gray has her own backgrounding research guide with more resources.

Bonjour, broadcast crafters

January 27th, 2013 by Jack Styczynski

Welcome (and for some, welcome back) to “The Craft of Research,” the official research blog for the Spring 2013 Broadcast Craft class of Susan Farkas.  It’s the spot for research lessons, handouts, news, tips and whatever else comes up during the semester, including links to your work.

For example, I know Anna Teregulova, Mathilde Hamel and (especially) Aine Pennello were busy during the break.

My name is Jack Styczynski and I’m completing my fifth year as a research adjunct at the J-school.  My full professional story is here.  Outside of work, I’m obsessed with Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina (yes, still) relief and recovery.  In fact, I love everything New Orleans and just attended a Big Easy band’s blowout Friday night at Stage 48 here in Manhattan.

Who dat!  (Research it if y’all don’t know.)

With Project Homecoming's Team Chatham last month before a RARE Saints shutout.

With Project Homecoming's Team Chatham last month before a RARE Saints shutout.

Wrapping up the semester

December 22nd, 2012 by Jack Styczynski

One last batch of bylines to close things out right…

From the Mott Haven Herald, we had Anna Teregulova’s story about a youth soccer league and a police blotter by Irina Ivanova and Shamanth Rao.

Individually, Irina’s story about the vintage book movement made the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Shamanth’s profile of Lloyd Ultan, the Bronx’s borough historian, was featured on Narrative.ly.  In addition, Shamanth had a piece in the Herald on a startup offering home nursing.

Not to be outdone, Irina combined with Nicholas Wells on another police blotter for the Herald.  Brianne Barry and Jesse Metzger teamed for one too, and Jessica Glazer compiled one solo.

Brianne also reported on the murder of a hurricane evacuee and Jessica wrote about the danger of future floods in the South Bronx.  Plus, Nathan Place got the scoop on a Mott Havenite serving the community through an open gym.

On the nerd librarian beat, I wrote stories for SLA NY ChapterNews on the group’s annual meeting and NPR researcher Kee Malesky.

Hopefully, many more bylines to come in all our lives!  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention 219 Magazine as a potential outlet for some, recently relaunched with my esteemed colleague Steve Strasser at the helm.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Quiz recap

December 18th, 2012 by Jack Styczynski

The quizzes are all graded and the class as a whole did better than any group I’ve ever had, by a wide margin.  Congrats!  Almost everyone scored in “double digits,” led by Irina Ivanova and Nick Wells, who each got 15.5 out of a possible 16.5 points.  Nick in fact got full credit for all the main questions, missing only the bonus.  None of the questions was a total stumper for the entire class, but the bonus was the one that the fewest people got, which is how it should be.  It was referred to only in a September e-mail about a potential enterprise project.

Really, only two other questions are worth mentioning…

I didn’t love all the answers to the first one about the superiority of Nexis and Factiva compared to Google, even when I awarded credit.  A number of answers were technically correct, although I didn’t think they expressed the most important advantages.  If I had just a few words at my disposal, I would’ve said, “More customizable searchability and deeper and denser archives of reputable sources.”  And yeah, I know that’s 11 words…sue me…or throw a semicolon between “searchability” and “deeper” instead of the word “and.”  I gave ya two ways for the price of one there anyhow.  LOL

The question about the founding and staff size of the Innocence Project was the second.  When I composed it, it was with the idea that you’d get the info from Associations Unlimited, which some of you did.  But others went to Guidestar, which is just as reputable of a source.  So I accepted a slightly different staff size number from Guidestar, so long as you reported it correctly.

Again, great job overall, folks.  I’m really happy.  I’ll be back with one last semester wrap up post soon.

Mining the web like a pro: Google and beyond

December 3rd, 2012 by Jack Styczynski

Points of emphasis for critical thinking:

  1. There’s more to search engines than just plugging in words.  The best searchers use the advanced features.  There are many places to find Google tips.
  2. No mainstream search engines, even Google, search anywhere close to the entire web.  They don’t index every page or database result, nor the entirety of many longer documents.  What’s not retrievable via these engines is known as the “deep web” or “invisible web.”  That’s why you need to familiarize yourself with many of the sources I’ve reviewed this semester.  You can’t rely on Google exclusively.
  3. Web sites are not all created equalEvaluate, and trust primary sources FIRST.  Sometimes you’ll want to check who owns a web site.
  4. Web pages don’t die easily.  Old pages can be treasure troves.
  5. The first breakout web search tool was a subject guide.  They are still around and still useful.
  6. In addition to the “general” search tools, there are great “specialty” engines too.  Among the best known are Google NewsGoogle Books and YouTube.

For more, see Barbara Gray’s guide.

Court research

December 2nd, 2012 by Jack Styczynski

Points of emphasis for critical thinking:

  1. With many courts at the federal, state and local levels, there is no “one stop shopping” for court research.  In most cases, you’ll need to know the jurisdiction before you can find anything.
  2. In many jurisdictions, particularly at the local levels, case information isn’t online at all.  For those cases, you have no choice but to visit the courthouse or contact the court clerk to get info (unless you can get it from participating lawyers).
  3. Of the courts that do have case information online, there’s no uniformity.  Some post full case documents.  Others provide only basic docket information.  And many times, you’ll have to use a fee-based service to get the info.
  4. For federal cases, PACER is the best place to go.  Although fee-based, it’s relatively inexpensive.  It has both docket information and (most) case documents.  (Note: The Supreme Court has its own no-cost site separate from the PACER system.  Historical SCOTUS info can be found here, here, here and here.) FindLaw is another good site to search Supreme and Circuit Court decisions. USCourts.gov also publishes the very useful Journalist’s Guide to the Federal Courts and Understanding the Federal Courts.
  5. LexisNexis has case information for the most jurisdictions–federal, state and local–but not all of it is available in the academic version universally accessible to CUNY students.  See Barbara Gray in the Research Center for access to the professional version.
  6. Beyond PACER and LexisNexis, you should check individual court sites, such as the New York State Unified Court System’s eCourtsSlip Decisions or SCROLL (for Manhattan Supreme) pages, to find out what is and isn’t available online.  (Note: The Bronx County Clerk’s Office has a Law Case Search page, including access to court documents for anyone who registers.)
  7. For higher-profile cases, you can sometimes find court documents posted at sites such as MoreLaw or The Smoking Gun.
  8. You’ll probably need to talk to them for your story anyway, so if all else fails, lawyers might provide case information.  My favorite sites to find lawyer contacts are LegalDockets and Martindale.com.

For more tips on court research, see Barbara Gray’s guide.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 21st, 2012 by Jack Styczynski

More bylines, no turkeys…

Michael Russell contributed to a video report on gourmet food trucks delivering free meals to struggling Red Hook residents.

The latest from the Mott Haven Herald includes Brianne Barry’s piece about a church’s 125th anniversary, Anna Teregulova’s story about a rally to save a school, Nicholas Wells’ article about FreshDirect’s controversial early entry into its proposed new headquarters, and a police blotter by Tanisia Morris and Elena Popina.

Keep up the good work!

Research-inspired enterprise option

November 13th, 2012 by Jack Styczynski

If you choose this option for your enterprise assignment, it should be a three-step process.

  1. Find a newsworthy statistic that interests you.
  2. Compare it to something.  (e.g. other geographic areas, the same statistic in previous years, etc.)
  3. Use reporting, and possibly more research, to determine and explain why your number compares as it does.  This will certainly involve identifying and interviewing experts on the subject.  In addition to getting them to explain “why,” you’ll probably want them to make suggestions for how to improve the number and/or predictions for the future.

Your research grade will be based on how well you handle items 2 and 3.  (Note: identifying and using experts will be part of your research grade no matter what enterprise option you choose.)

Common pitfalls to avoid (the first of which is more specific to this particular enterprise option; the others apply to any story):

  • Back-end research: Don’t conjure up a story idea and then try to figure out how to fit (statistical) research into it.  That’s backwards.  The research is supposed to inspire the story.  In fact, don’t even bother making a pitch unless you already have the data that inspired your story idea.  Once you start writing, if you find yourself several paragraphs into the story before you’ve mentioned any numbers, you’re also “back-ending” it.  A research-inspired enterprise story needs the research up high.  The nut graf is often a good place for statistics.
  • Numbers without context: Reporting that there are 27 widget manufacturers in your CD means nothing without context.  How many were there five years ago?  What is the difference from the average CD?  Get it?  Some kind of comparison is vital.  Chronological or geographical comparisons are two of the most common and accepted.
  • Statistical overload: Don’t operate on the “more is better” principle.  All you really need is one good statistic to inspire your story.  That’s not to say you’re limited to one, but don’t bombard.  Cramming too many numbers into a story often clouds the theme or makes the necessary backup reporting too unwieldy.

Helpful hints: Interesting statistics you found while researching your beat memos may make for good story ideas.  Many of the sites listed on my NYC.gov handout are treasure troves of statistical information.