Archive for October, 2009

November 10th notes

October 30th, 2009 by Jack

On November 10th, I’ll present just a brief lesson, as we and all the other Craft I classes will attend a special research presentation on backgrounding people using social networking sites, courtesy of the New York Times.  With that in mind, I’d like you to peruse some of the material below.

Speaking of November 10th, I want to remind you that’s also the deadline for APPROVED pitches on the research-inspired enterprise assignment.  That means you need to start pitching BEFORE 11/10.  I’ve yet to receive a pitch, and I’ll be out of town next week, which means I may not get back to you as quickly as I normally would.  Remember that is a treasure trove of possible ideas.  I just discovered another gem last week that’s not even on my handout.  Maybe you could uncover federal stimulus projects in your CD and compare them to other CDs?

Today’s bonus: David Montalvo, a.k.a. Mr. Millburn, has another winner on “The Local” blog for the New York Times.

Congrats to David Montalvo!

October 23rd, 2009 by Jack

I meant to post this sooner, but better late than never.  David recently had a story and slideshow about the 12th annual Millburn Fire Department Open House on “The Local” blog for the New York Times.  Make sure to check out the photos, which he took himself.  David’s a regular one-man band!

Today’s bonus: As a proud New York Times blogger myself, feel free to check out my latest.  If you accuse me of “statistical overload,” I may have to plead guilty!

Double bonus: Don’t forget Tuesday’s “due diligence” lesson tips on dates of birth.  Try BirthDetails to find ’em and Can I Vote? to confirm.

Research-inspired enterprise assignment

October 19th, 2009 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.
  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.  Approved pitch deadline is 11/10, although earlier is better.   Story is due 12/1.

Common pitfalls to avoid:

  • 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.  If not in the lead, then shortly thereafter.
  • 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 handout are treasure troves of statistical information.

Next week: due diligence

October 15th, 2009 by Jack

Our next research session will be more of a discussion than a lecture, so please read the following stories before class on 10/20.

If you have time, I’d also like you to read the stories I assigned last semester.

Today’s bonus: An example of doing due diligence on Twitter. 

God bless Jon Stewart

October 13th, 2009 by Jack

This is the expanded, FUNNY way of asking Are you sure? and Says who?

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
CNN Leaves It There
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Ron Paul Interview

Friendly advice on the beat memo

October 8th, 2009 by Jack

This should go without saying, but I’ll be kind and give you a heads-up anyway.  You should be providing sources for your answers on the CD beat memo.  In particular, I don’t want to see any statistics without you telling me where they came from.  (Remember one of our key questions to be addressed?  Says who?)  Where applicable, a link to the source is sufficient.

Finding sources for stories

October 5th, 2009 by Jack

Points of emphasis for critical thinking:

  • Experts should be one of your first thoughts as a source of information on any subject.  They can lend authority, accuracy, balance and credibility to your stories.  They may also refer you to other sources.
  • One good way to find experts is to do a Nexis or Factiva search on your story subject and see who has spoken on the topic in the past.
  • Another way is to seek out local or national organizations related to the topic.  One of my favorite tools is the Encyclopedia of Associations, an “old-fashioned” print resource available in our Research Center.  Online, you can use the school’s Associations Unlimited account or the universally accessible Gateway to Associations.
  • Government experts can also be useful.  Any New York City reporter should have the latest copy of the Green Book.
  • Many colleges and universities provide access to faculty and staff experts via their web sites, including CUNY and other local schools.   There are also web sites specifically devoted to connecting journalists with experts, such as ProfNet and the Yearbook of Experts.
  • Sources need not always be subject experts.  Acquaintances of people or witnesses to events would be prime examples.  ReferenceUSA is a great tool to find such sources.

Congratulations, Anne Mintz!

October 1st, 2009 by Jack

One of my colleagues here at school has won a prestigious award.  Some of you may be fortunate enough to have Anne as your research instructor in Craft II.
But for now, you’re stuck with me.