Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Colleague watch

November 17th, 2010 by Jack

Here’s the Wiki link for Barbara Gray’s handouts, now including yesterday’s presentation on social networking.

Speaking of which, Charles Wilson supplemented Barbara’s lesson with some people finding thoughts of his own.

Today’s bonus: Barbara also tipped me off to this article.  Rush (among others) gets taken in again.

Answering Annais

November 10th, 2010 by Jack

While investigating the question Annais posed yesterday about translating job title codes on the New York City Civil List, I came to the conclusion that the easiest way to do it is just use SeeThroughNY’s City of New York payroll database.  Using yesterday’s example of Thomas Farley, SeeThroughNY lists his position as Commissioner of Health rather than the job code number of 94357 on the Civil List, not to mention it gives his entire first name rather than just a first initial.  I would still check the Civil List to confirm a salary since it is the primary source, but SeeThroughNY is definitely the more user-friendly tool.  Also note that the Civil Lists go back farther than SeeThroughNY if you need to check salaries from past years.

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.

In case you haven’t noticed…

September 30th, 2010 by Jack

The American Community Survey link listed in my September 20th post now has updated 2009 one-year estimates, as I said it would sometime this month.  You can use these numbers for your beat memo (or anything else) if you wish.  Note that the 3-year and soon to be added 5-year estimates are not available yet.  Nor are Census 2010 numbers.

Also, Tinamarie Vella has a good post on AP services available through the J-school.

More on the memo

September 23rd, 2010 by Jack

My colleague Charles Wilson has posted some good tips for answering questions on the beat memo here and here.  Note that the first link includes some advice on question 30, which you’re welcome to follow, although this would not be the equal of the more ambitious and painstaking effort I described in class.  It’s probably the “second best” option, if you’re short on time or patience.

Also note that I’m leaving town tomorrow and won’t be back until the assignment is due.  You’re still welcome to e-mail me questions; I just wanted to give you a heads up that I may not respond as quickly as I normally would.

Adventures with Wikipedia

September 14th, 2010 by Jack

Usually, weeks pass without Wikipedia playing any role in my research, but I had two experiences in recent days that I thought worth passing along.

First, last Friday, seconds before MSNBC’s Chris Jansing was about to go on the air with a story about boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s latest foray into the news, she asked if he had been a champion.  I immediately answered yes, and then knowing I had precious little time to check any details, Googled him.  Watching me, Chris asked to view the Wikipedia link that appeared in the results, and we saw Mayweather had won nine championships in five weight classes.  I said we can’t vouch for Wikipedia, and she agreed, making sure to couch what she ultimately said on the air with the words “something like” nine championships in five weight classes.  I felt pretty good with her disclaimer.  With more time to check it out later, it essentially turned out to be correct (boxing championships are not as black and white as championships in most sports, so it’s debatable).  Let me add that most research I do is not under that tight of a deadline.  Given even 10 minutes, I wouldn’t have checked Wikipedia at all.

Then today, I got a research request at the Times asking for an article in the Pensacola News Journal from June 31, 2003.  Of course, there is no such date as June 31st, and the requester said the citation came from a Wikipedia entry on Judge Roger Vinson.  It was supposedly an article about the judge having stuffed bear heads above the door to his courtroom and removing them under pressure.  Checking Nexis, I found no stories like that in the Pensacola paper or elsewhere, and told the requester I thought the entry may be false.  He called the judge’s chambers and found out it was completely made up.  The judge’s wife had even heard Rush Limbaugh repeat it and freaked.  Minutes later, Wikipedia had been revised, with the passage in question removed.

I guess you can consider this an update to the Wikipedia video Barbara Gray shared at the Nexis orientation.

Another byline for Michael

May 1st, 2010 by Jack

Michael Cohen’s report on chatter in some circles about the political future of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie found a home on

Today’s bonus: Tinamarie Vella of the Research Center had a good post this week on polling resources.

Odds and ends

April 12th, 2010 by Jack

First and foremost, a reminder about next week’s research clinics offered by the Research Center.  I highly recommend attending, especially the Facts on File session Tuesday at 12:30.  It will be worth your while, guaranteed.

Going back to last week’s lesson for a moment, I read an interesting article in the Weekly Standard about the Census Bureau’s “Orwellian American Community Survey.”

From the byline congratulations department, Danny Gold’s story about crime plaguing a senior citizens housing development in Brooklyn made City Limits.

As for my own work, if you heard me mention my “manual labor” during our break in class last week, I was talking about my trip to New Orleans last month.  Photos and a story are here.

Educational bonus: In case you missed it, Alan Schwarz of the New York Times did some great enterprise work last week.  Stories here, here, here and here.  Also, here is some stinky, but good, enterprise reporting from AM New York.

Fun bonus: The Film Forum is in the midst of showing a month’s worth of newspaper-related flicks.