C’est magnifique, Mademoiselle Hamel!

March 19th, 2013 by Jack Styczynski

You made a research nerd look (sorta) cool!

The Life of Jack Styczynski from Mathilde M. Hamel on Vimeo.

Update, 3/21: Thanks to Jim Coningsby for the kind words after seeing the video!

March Madness bonus: It’s been a busy month doing research for stories about
the (not so) fast and fraudulenta cannibal cop and gun rights vs. protection orders,
not to mention writing on hoops.  (Check out all the comments on the Big East story!)

Finding statistical trends: Census tools and polls

March 11th, 2013 by Jack Styczynski

The 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!
  • State and County QuickFacts provides easy access via a map for a quick look at some broad statistics for states, counties and cities.
  • Facts for Features & Special Editions consist of collections of statistics from the Census Bureau’s demographic and economic subject areas intended to commemorate anniversaries or observances or to provide background information for topics in the news.

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

  • The New York City Department of City Planning’s population page has some useful resources, including American Community Survey data and a map delineating Community Districts and Census Bureau PUMAs.  (Baruch College’s NYCdata site also has New York statistics beyond just those from the Census Bureau.)
  • Infoshare Online and Social Explorer are two subscription sources we have.  Take advantage of CUNY access!
  • The University of Virginia Library has a great Historical Census Browser with data from 1790 to 1960.  Need slave and slaveholder statistics?  (Ugh.)  This is one place to easily find them.
  • Last but not least, check out the All Things Census blog from the Pew Research Center.

Bonus tip: Barbara Gray has compiled a handout on Mining Census data for reporting that does an especially good job explaining the differences between the decennial census and the American Community Survey.

Opinion polls are also a great way to detect trends in the population.  When most people think of polls, they think of political polling, but there’s much more to be found.

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.

Finding video and graphical archives

March 4th, 2013 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.

  • Critical Mention was introduced in this semester’s first lesson when I mentioned getting closed captioning of programming as an alternative when transcripts are not available in Nexis and Factiva.  (I’m also aware of two similar services called ShadowTV and ITV, 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 Ardome.
  • Although they don’t qualify as a professional subscription databases, the Internet Archive also has useful TV News and “moving image” 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, Amsterdam News and Village Voice through the J-school’s subscription to ProQuest.  The titles have varying dates of coverage.  In addition, the Brooklyn Public Library also has scanned archives of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from 1841 to 1902.  On a national scale, the Library of Congress has a collection of newspapers from selected states (including New York), ranging from 1836 to 1922.
  • You can get PDFs of current newspaper front pages around the world from the Newseum.  Only front pages, though.
  • We have access to many magazine and journal PDF archives through the J-school’s subscriptions to EBSCO MasterFILE Premier 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.
  • 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 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 J-school has a subscription to AP Images and the New York City Department of Records Municipal Archives has an online photo gallery.

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.