Archive for November, 2008

Research quiz: December 2nd

November 25th, 2008 by Jack

The research quiz is ready to go for the morning of December 2nd.  Now that it’s compiled, here are some reminders and advice:

  • You will have one hour to complete 20 short answer questions.  Each question is worth 5 points, although partial credit is possible for many of them.
  • It’s “open blog,” so have your laptop ready.  Most of the questions are based on resources and topics we discussed in class, but there are some that appeared only on the blog.  If you haven’t been following the blog closely during the semester, I would highly suggest familiarizing yourself with the “lessons/handouts” posts, as well as the “tips” pages and posts.  You’re not going to have time to do much hunting around during the quiz.  To get the job done, you’ll need to have a good idea of where to find things in advance.  Basically, the blog can help you with almost every answer, even if you slept through my class presentations.
  • As you’ve probably learned in the past, if any question stumps you, just move on and come back to it later, time permitting.  Don’t waste precious minutes on a toughie that will cost you a shot at answering “easier” questions.  They all count for the same number of points, but they are not all designed to be “3 minute questions,” so you may want to knock off as many quick ones as you can before you attempt the ones you think might take longer.
  • There are no “trick questions.”  No use for those.
  • Good luck.  I’m hoping you’ll find the quiz easy, because all the questions represent important research concepts, and if you’ve got ’em down, I’ve done my job.

Bylines of the week

November 23rd, 2008 by Jack

Congrats to Sarah Trefethen for her story on a new Bronx church in the Norwood News. Collin Orcutt also had his weekly take on the NBA on the Men’s Fitness blog.

Lesson #6: Court research

November 18th, 2008 by Jack

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, herehere and here.)   FindLaw is another good site to search Supreme and Circuit Court decisions.  The Federal Judiciary 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 it requires a more costly account, not available through our CUNY subscription.
  6. Beyond PACER and LexisNexis, you can and should check individual court sites, such as the New York State Unified Court System’s eCourts or Appellate Courts pages, to find out what is and isn’t available online there.  (Note: Cornell’s Legal Information Institute has archived New York Court of Appeals decisions.)
  7. For higher-profile cases, you can sometimes find court documents posted at sites such as FindLaw, Jurist, MoreLaw, CNN Crime News 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

This week in Orcutt-ville…

November 17th, 2008 by Jack

Collin keeps stacking up the bylines…a marathon story in his hometown paper, and of course, the Men’s Fitness blog.

Election day bylines

November 9th, 2008 by Jack

Great work for the New York City News Service…

Several members of Steve’s class collaborated on Young Voters Speak.

Igor Kossov went solo for A Tale of Two Neighborhoods.

Karina Ioffee had a brief story on a Queens teen.

Plenty of audio dispatches filed too.  Rachel Senatore here and here.  Lindsay Lazarski here and here.  Geneva Sands-Sadowitz here.  Maya Pope-Chappell here, here and here.

Several members of Tim’s class collaborated here, here, here, here and here.

Robert Voris went solo for Backlogs Snag Citizenship Hopefuls.

Lastly, Collin Orcutt’s participation in a couple of the collaborations above didn’t keep him from filing his weekly blog entry at Men’s Fitness.

More web search tips

November 7th, 2008 by Jack

Following up on Wednesday’s lesson, here are a couple more good resources:

  • Finding Information on the Internet This UC Berkeley tutorial has particularly good sections on search engines, subject directories and evaluating web pages.
  • Internet Tutorials Virtually every section is good, but the “Research Guides” and “Boolean Searching” links are especially worthwhile.

Research-inspired enterprise

November 6th, 2008 by Jack

I want to simplify this project as much as possible.  It should be a three-step process.

  1. Find a newsworthy statistic that interests you, preferably but not necessarily in your CD.
  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 grade will be based on how well you handle items 2 and 3.  I’m expecting 800-1000 words.

Lesson #5: Searching the web effectively

November 4th, 2008 by Jack

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 include every page, nor the entirety of many longer documents.  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.  Two of the best known are Google News and YouTube.

Keep up the good work!

November 3rd, 2008 by Jack

More bylines for Maya Pope-Chappell at the Amsterdam News and Collin Orcutt at Men’s Fitness.  Also this week, we get entries from Anastasia Economides in the Queens Courier and Lindsay Lazarski in the Huffington Post.  So score two for Team Tim and two for the Strass-class.  Congrats again.

The CD beat memo recap

November 2nd, 2008 by Jack

So I’m finally done reviewing all 22 beat memos in both sections.  Phew!  I spent at least an hour on each one.  You do the math.

First of all, special congratulations to the 7 who merited a check-plus.  For those who didn’t, take heart that this will be your least significant research grade.

Kudos also to those who had the tenacity to navigate the user-UNfriendly Census Bureau Factfinder to get any 2007 ACS PUMA data.  I was perfectly willing to accept the equivalent 2006 data available on the more easily-navigable, so that was impressive.

It was actually one of a handful of things that impressed me.

A few of you discovered good sources that I hadn’t listed on the blog or in handouts.  One was the 2007 Community Snapshots in the Children’s Services section of  Mind you, these snapshots weren’t great in all the cases people cited, but they were particularly good for CD income and unemployment data (although there may be some issues with unemployment…more on that later).  Another was the Association of Religion Data Archives site, a perfectly acceptable alternative to Social Explorer for 2000 religion breakdowns by county.

What else stood out? (more…)