Archive for October, 2010

Schedule change

October 26th, 2010 by Jack

It has been decided that Barbara Gray will do an all-class session called “Using Social Media for News Research and Reporting” on November 16th, so that will not be my next time in class, after all.   Barbara is definitely the guru on this subject.

Instead, I will present a lesson on “backgrounding resources” the AFTERNOON of November 9th, and a session titled “Mining the web like a pro: Google and beyond” the morning of November 30th.  Please note these changes to the original syllabus.

Nothing changes with the due date on the research-inspired enterprise story (November 10th) or the date of the research quiz (December 7th).

See you again November 9th.

Finding sources for stories

October 18th, 2010 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, Barbara Gray!

October 15th, 2010 by Jack

My now former boss at the New York Times becomes my new (sort of) boss here at the J-school.  If you haven’t met Barbara already, make sure you introduce yourself to her when she starts next week in the Research Center.  She’s the best!

Today’s bonus: Is Tumblr the next Twitter?

Hump day update

October 13th, 2010 by Jack

I finished with half of the beat memos last weekend.  Since I’m dealing with the enterprise pitches this week, I won’t get to the rest until the coming weekend.  That also means I want all pitches resolved by then.

Today’s bonus: Charles Wilson has some more thoughts on cops and crime research.

Weekend update

October 8th, 2010 by Jack

For anyone wondering about the beat memos, I plan to start getting them back to you this weekend.  I’ll review them in the order I received them, so those of you who used the “extra time” Tuesday will get them back later.  I’m not sure I’ll finish this weekend, but I promise that everyone will have them back by the time I see you next on October 19.

Today’s bonus: Check out this CJR article that Judy Watson sent around, which includes tips for how writers should handle research so that they don’t plagiarize.

Research-inspired enterprise assignment

October 5th, 2010 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.  Pitch is due 10/12.  (Feel free to contact me sooner, because if not approved, I won’t allow much time for a re-pitch.)  Story is due 11/10.

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.

Cops and crime

October 4th, 2010 by Jack

Handout highlights:

  1. Crime statistics at the local, state and national levels
  2. Inmate statistics and lookup/locator tools (plus parole and probation stats)
  3. Most wanted criminals
  4. Sex offender registries
  5. Criminal court information  
  6. Gun violence timelines
  7. Death penalty information
  8. District Attorneys and lawyers

Headed back home

October 3rd, 2010 by Jack

Don’t forget that your CD beat memos are due to me Tuesday, when we’ll discuss “cops and crime” research in class.  Please note that there will be a more comprehensive lesson on court research in Craft II.

Before I go, big shout out to my AmeriCorps friends at the Phoenix of New Orleans and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore–Chris, Jen and Will, Amanda and Melissa.  AmeriCorps does fantastic work and is a great way to offset those student loans too!

While I’m on the subject of New Orleans, I should also plug the recent video directed by the J-school’s own Bob Sacha.  Excellent job!

Jack and Chris Glynn celebrate their favorite team and a week of interior demo.

Jack and Chris Glynn celebrate their favorite team and a week of interior demo.

Breathing a sigh of relief after the Saints close win today at the Superdome.

Breathing a sigh of relief after the Saints close win today at the Superdome.