Archive for February, 2010

R.I.P. Jerry Bornstein

February 24th, 2010 by Jack

Former NBC researcher and CUNY J-School Research Adjunct Jerry Bornstein has passed away.  Read about Jerry here and watch a video of him talking about his job below.  The last minute of the video is especially poignant.

Civic literacy and federal government

February 22nd, 2010 by Jack

Points of emphasis for critical thinking:

  1. As you may remember from elementary school, there are three branches of the federal government–executive, legislative and judicial.  For the purposes of this lesson, we’ll be concentrating mainly on executive branch offices and resources.  (The judicial branch will be covered in an upcoming lesson on court research.)
  2. The executive branch is comprised of cabinet-level departments (e.g. Secretary of State heads State Department, Secretary of Defense heads Defense Department, etc.).  There are also various bureaus, agencies, administrations, commissions, boards and offices.  Some of these (e.g. Census Bureau, FAA, FBI, FEMA) are part of the executive branch departments.  Others (e.g. CIA, EPA, FCC, FDIC, FECNASA, NTSB, SEC) are independent of them.
  3. As is the case with, there are many federal government resources and databases not easily found from the main pages of sites, and even if you luck out and find them via a Google search, the information contained within rarely can be found without going to the resource and database pages themselves.  Thus, the more you familiarize yourself with them, the better.
  4. Among the most useful federal government resources are those provided by the Census Bureau, which we’ll discuss more during a separate lesson later in the semester.  There are also great databases related to labor, occupational safety, campaign finance, education, health, transportation, crime and business.  See this lesson’s handout for more details.

The power of research, part two!

February 22nd, 2010 by Jack

Check out this incredible story from the Charlotte Observer.

Case study: the power of research

February 20th, 2010 by Jack

A few weeks ago, a college basketball coach was fired and went on a rant about the mid-season termination providing no benefit.  I had a hunch he was right and wanted to go about proving it in an article.

The first thing I did was contact Gary K. Johnson at the N.C.A.A.–the organization’s stats expert–who sent me a list of all the coaching changes over the last 15 years, including those that happened during the season.

Then I needed to find out the circumstances behind those changes.  I was only interested in the ones where coaches were fired, or effectively fired by being forced to resign.  So I did a Nexis search on every one and discovered that of the dozen coaches who had been dismissed during the season over the past six years, not one of the immediate replacements succeeded and got the job permanently at the end of the season.

So I compiled a chart and here was the end result.

God bless experts!  God bless Nexis!

Listing research sources

February 14th, 2010 by Jack

When you list research sources at the end of your stories, I want something that shows me why you’re listing each source.  A bare list of links or citations does nothing for me.  I’m not going to read full reports or stories to try to figure out why you listed them.  You could handle this in one of two ways.  You could put numbered footnotes in the text of your stories if David and Rebecca will allow that, or if not, annotate your source lists to tell me what information you used in your story from each source.

Today’s bonus: Tinamarie Vella of our Research Center has a great post on useful resources from the Library of Congress web site. resources

February 10th, 2010 by Jack

From some of the research questions I’m getting, I’m starting to gather that many of you may not have gotten familiar enough with resources in Craft I.  Unfortunately, it’s not a scheduled lesson for Craft II, but I would highly suggest perusing the handout I posted in my lesson material last fall.  If you’re looking for some sort of New York City information or data, there’s a good chance it’s going to be somewhere on  It’s not always easy to find, hence the handout which annotates direct links to a lot of the most useful databases and pages.

Please check it out!

A second thought on names

February 9th, 2010 by Jack

While my point today about checking the spelling of names is still valid, my response to Eugenia about not trusting people on their own names probably deserves an addendum.  First of all, I admit that people are less likely to lie about their names than they are about their ages or titles, which definitely need verification beyond their word for it.  But more significantly, there are a lot of times when you’re simply not going to be able to get the spelling of someone’s name by asking the person.  What if the person is deceased?  Or missing?  Or just arrested?  Or in some other position where you’re not going to be able to ask him or her?  You need to know these “best practices” for reasons beyond just not trusting people on their own names.

Fact-checking research lesson

February 8th, 2010 by Jack

OK, I’ve updated this post to reflect the fact-checking lesson material as taught.  First, we discussed some of the most common kinds of facts that need to be checked in any story, including numbers and statistics, names, dates, ages, locations, titles and degrees.  Among the kinds of numbers we discussed were the questionable NYPD crime statistics as reported by the New York Times, Daily News and Village Voice (again and again), as well as the 2008-09 and 2009-10 NYU tuition costs from different sources.  We agreed that while data from primary sources–such as the 2008-09 tuition–is preferable, even that is not necessarily accurate, as the NYPD crime statistics controversy shows.  From a research perspective, primary sources generate data, so they’re more likely to be correct, as opposed to secondary sources, which only report data.  Government agencies are a typical primary source.  (You can trust their data as much as you can trust the government.)  News media are a typical secondary source.  The general idea is to be citing primary sources in your stories, where appropriate.  You can also “couch” any questionable data, if necessary.

As far as actually checking facts, we killed three birds with one stone by looking up the name (spelling), age and location of my brother, using the BirthDetails and Can I Vote? web sites.  The first was a useful secondary source, and the second linked to state voter registration sites, which qualify as primary.  This is not the only way to check the facts we did, but it’s a good one.  Another would be DMV records.  Of course, sometimes neither method will be available to you, and then you’d have to use other means.  We also agreed that an employer would be the best (primary) source for checking someone’s title.

Although we didn’t have time to review them, I did promise you links for obtaining military personnel records and a degree verification database.  The former requires a formal “Form 180” request that takes some time to process.  The latter requires a nominal fee to retrieve records.

Last but not least, never forget the two most important fact-checking questions…

  1. Are you sure?
  2. Says who?