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Session 7: Google and Beyond

Your standard Google search doesn’t take too much brain power, but let’s look at some ways to make the most of this indispensable research tool.

For a fancy Google search, use the Advanced Search page, which you can find by Googling or clicking on the gear icon on top right of the search results page.The form will allow you to limit your search results by date, file type, language, etc. You can bypass it altogether, however, by learning a few Google tricks (more of which you will find in the Advanced Google Operators Guide).

Boolean searching

AND is assumed. Put exact phrases in quotes. To find terms that are near each other, use an * — for example, Sabrina * Erdely, which will find pages that mention “Sabrina Rubin Erdely,” “Sabrina R. Erdely,” etc.

OR (or |): find either of two or more terms (and yes, the OR must be capitalized). For example, to find out what Bush or Obama said about the case of Eric Garner, try this:

“eric garner” bush OR obama

NOT: use a minus sign (-) before the term or terms you don’t want to appear in your results. For example:

salsa -dance -music

Using Search tools

How would you search for information on Sabrina Rubin Erdely from before the recent flap? Limit your results to certain dates using the Search tools > Any time function.

Searching within a site 

You’ve no doubt noticed that most sites’ internal search engines are pretty bad. Bypass them by Googling site:[URL]. For example, searching the Phi Kappa Psi website for “university of virginia” doesn’t yield any results. But this does: “university of virginia”

Searching by file type

If you’re looking for reports or datasets, use the filetype function. The following searches will help you find statistics on infant mortality in New York.

filetype:pdf infant mortality “new york” — finds PDF documents

filetype:xls infant mortality “new york” — finds spreadsheets

You can also use ppt for PowerPoint and doc for Word documents, or the newer Microsoft extensions — xlsx, docx, etc.

Search by domain type

  • site:edu — colleges and universities. Good for finding experts
  • site:mil — U.S. military sites
  • site:gov — U.S. (and some state) government sites
  • site:org — (mostly) nonprofits. Good for finding reports, studies, etc.

Specialized Google search sites

Check out Google’s quick reference guide for other advanced searching tools.

Finding archived websites

The Phi Kappa Psi website — — is pretty sparse at the moment. But what did it look like a year ago? Let’s use the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to find out. Here are some other resources for finding old web sites.

Deep Web

Not everything can be found in a Google search. Loads of information is stored in databases, behind paywalls, etc. and invisible to search engines. Fee-based resources for finding material on the Deep Web include Nexis,, and J-School and NYPL databases (get your library card!).

Some free Deep Web sites:

How to evaluate a web site

  • Is the site from a group, institution, or person you recognize? Consider its authority.
  • Domain type: is it .mil, .gov, or .edu?
  • Who produces the site? Check “About” information. Search for the site registry using or a similar site.
  • Is the information on the site current?
  • Check out leads to other sites. Never stop at Wikipedia, but use the links.
  • Look for parody or bias. Consider

Alternatives to Google

Additional info

CUNY J-School Research Guides to Google and Beyond and Finding Dead Websites

And finally — a note about taking care of yourselves. In your career, you might cover sexual assaults, child abuse, war, disasters and any number of traumatic situations. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma offers these tips for maintaining your physical and psychological health.

Session 6: Fact Checking

No journalist is perfect, but the ones who fact-check their stories can come close. To see the perils of leaving facts unchecked, let’s take a look at some recent amusing (to me, anyway) corrections at my beloved employer:

Times Corrections

And then there was the paper’s error-ridden appraisal of the career of Walter Cronkite, which unfortunately has become a legend.

The two questions to ask yourself when fact checking:

  1. Says who?
  2. Are you sure?

What do I fact-check?

From The Fact Checker’s Bible: A Guide to Getting It Right by Sarah Harrison Smith

  • Proper names
  • Place names
  • References to time, distance, date, season
  • Physical descriptions
  • References to the sex of anyone described (names can be deceiving)
  • Quotations
  • Any arguments or narrative that depends on fact

Common errors

  • Numbers (including statistics, ages, etc.)
  • Historical facts
  • Dates
  • Possible bias
  • Superlatives like “only,” “first,” “most,” “biggest,” “never,” etc.

Sources for fact checking

  • Ideally, a primary source: government, academic studies, etc.
  • Reliable reference book: Merck Manual for health, Oxford Dictionary of Music, etc.
  • Three citations from reliable sources: The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, etc. It’s not ideal, but it’s the process we used at Fox News.
  • Confirming with expert
  • Confirming with source

Some key resources

Let’s pretend to be New Yorker researchers by fact-checking this recent piece on QueensWay in The Talk Of The Town.

Here are some accuracy checklists and guides:

CUNY J-School Research Center’s Research Guides on fact checking


Session 5: Courts

How do you get the inside scoop on a court case, whether it’s a juicy lawsuit or the criminal trial of the century? You’ll need to know:

  • The type of case: civil, criminal, housing, etc.
  • The jurisdiction: state, federal or local

Nexis, Factiva or Google News can help you determine these things.

The Civil Court of the City of New York handles:

  • claims for damages up to $25,000
  • small claims for cases involving amounts up to $5,000
  • landlord-tenant matters

The Criminal Court of the City of New York handles:

  • misdemeanors (crimes punishable by fine or imprisonment of up to one year) and  lesser offenses
  • arraignments (initial court appearances following arrest) and preliminary hearings for felonies (crimes punishable by imprisonment of more than one year)

The Supreme Court of New York generally hears cases such as civil matters involving higher dollar amounts; divorce, separation and annulment proceedings; and criminal prosecutions of felonies.

How to find cases and filings in New York State 

eCourts has civil and criminal case docket information, and, in some cases, filings.

Webcrims, part of eCourts, has information about pending criminal cases. Let’s see what we can find on Sean Shaynak, the disgraced former Brooklyn Tech teacher.

SCROLL has filings for some New York County Supreme Court cases — for example, the suit filed by an Upper East Side family to keep their pet collie, Olivia (the docket is here).

The Bronx County Clerks website also offers some filings (sign in as a guest), and LexisNexis Academic has selected cases.

How to find federal cases

You can access PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) at the J-School Research Center. PACER will show you the parties involved, a chronology of events, written opinions, etc. It’s fee-based but cheap: 10 cents a page, with a $3 cap per document. As an example, let’s look at Robin Thicke’s lawsuit against the estate of Marvin Gaye; here are the complaint and the docket.

How to get documents that aren’t online

Attorney contact databases

Some other key resources

And here’s a link to today’s drill.

Session 4: Finding Experts

Who is an expert? Here’s a nice explanation from “Everybody’s an Expert,” an article co-written by Roberta Brody (my favorite library school professor) in the May-June 2008 issue of Online magazine:

An expert is generally described as someone who is recognized by his or her peers or by the public as a reliable source of knowledge, information, and/or abilities. Experts are seen as knowing more than the average person and are supposed to be capable of making better decisions than those who are less informed….

Regardless of the field, experts are likely to be found in the ranks of academic and professional writers, specialized publication editors, experienced practitioners, professors, consultants, spokespersons for trade and professional associations in the field, government officials (including regulators and legislators) and watchdogs or critics who monitor the field.

Here’s what to look for in a credible expert, per the J-School Research Center guide:

  • Someone affiliated with a reputable organization, university, etc.
  • Someone who has authored works that have been characterized or identified as authoritative in the field in question, by multiple reputable sources.
  • Someone who has been characterized or identified as an authority in his or her field, by multiple reputable sources.
  • Someone who by virtue of their position (in a government agency, for instance) could be considered to be an authority.

A key question to ask: who needs to know the information I’m seeking?

Nexis can help you find experts who have been quoted in the press. Here’s a sample search string for experts on a potential Ebola vaccine:

hlead(ebola and vaccine) and atleast2(ebola and vaccine) and (expert or professor or doctor or physician) w/5 (say! or said)

A sampling of expert-finding resources (consult the Research Center guide for many more):

A final note: try to avoid the usual suspects. With all due respect to Robert Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, is he really the go-to guy for everything from Jimmy Hoffa to Honey Boo Boo? Try this Nexis search (limit to previous year) to see how ubiquitous he is:

robert w/2 thompson and syracuse univ! and atleast2(thompson)

Look for experts who aren’t constantly being quoted. They might bring a fresh perspective.

Here’s a link to today’s drill.

Session 3: People Finding

Where is everybody? Let’s talk about some databases and social media tools that will help you find subjects and sources.

We’ll start with a recent example of people finding in action at the New York Times. Last month, Alton Alexander Nolen allegedly beheaded one former co-worker and stabbed another at a food processing plant in Oklahoma. A reporter asked the research department to help her find Nolen’s family and friends. To do this, we:

  • Ran an Accurint report on Nolen to find phone numbers and addresses for him and his relatives.
  • Looked for his family on Facebook.
  • Did a Nexis search to see what we could find about him. This led to the name of his high school football coaches and teammates, who gave the reporter a key break in the story: Nolen’s Facebook page.

(We also checked his criminal history with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and the Oklahoma courts, but we’ll talk about that later on in the semester.)

Using the J-School’s databases

Unfortunately, we don’t have open access to Accurint, but if you need to run a report, ask Barbara or Tinamarie at the Research Center. They can also help you with Nexis Public Records.

ReferenceUSA offers a fairly robust directory of phone numbers and addresses. You can also use it to find neighbors of your subject.

Spokeo also allows you to find people, phones and addresses, plus email and social media accounts. will help you find family connections, addresses, etc. The Times research department used it to find relatives of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown.

Using social media to find people

Facebook’s graph search is an invaluable tool for finding people and the connections between them. While privacy settings limit usefulness for journalists, you might be able to see the person’s friends, photos, etc. You can send messages directly to the person’s Facebook inbox (not the “other” folder) for a fee, currently $5.

LinkedIn is another great resource for people finding. A reporter recently asked the Times research department to help her find members of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. We did this in part by doing an advanced search on LinkedIn, which allows users to search by keyword, name, location, and current or past employment.

A few LinkedIn tips:

  • This Friday, October 10, LinkedIn’s Yumi Wilson will be at the J-School to give a LinkedIn for Journalists tutorial, possibly with free premium accounts for attendeees.
  • Join the LinkedIn for Journalists group. If you can’t make the tutorial on Friday, keep an eye out for the online version. This will get you a free year of LinkedIn Premium, which lets you send emails and do more advanced searches.
  • Check your settings at the top right. You want to view profiles anonymously.
  • Can’t see the name on a LinkedIn profile? Try doing a Google search using and a snippet from the profile.

Check Twitter to see what your subject has been tweeting and/or find friends of a crime victim. Try the advanced search to find tweets by location. This helped the Times researchers find victims of the UC-Santa Barbara shootings last spring.

And finally, if your subject has a website, you can often find his or her contact information by doing a “whois” lookup on Network Solutions, DomainTools, or a similar site.

Here are some additional people-finding resources:

And here’s a link to today’s drill.

American FactFinder: A Sneak Peek

In case you missed it on Facebook,  here’s Barbara Gray’s great news about Social Explorer:

Hey guys, Social Explorer now lets you search for Census Data by CD. Here’s a tipsheet to show you how: Have a great weekend!

Before this news broke, I was working on a blog post on how to use the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder to find info on your CD. Since it would be a shame to let it go to waste, here it is. Social Explorer is a lot more user-friendly, however, so try it first.

Normally, we don’t cover the Census until Craft II. But since you are clearly an advanced bunch, here’s a quick preview of a feature in American FactFinder that will help you with Community District information for your beat memo.

American FactFinder presents information from the American Community Survey (which, unlike the decennial Census, is an ongoing survey that provides data every year). Without getting too far into it, here’s what you need to know:

From the American FactFinder Advanced Search screen, you can search for information by Community District. Go to the  “State, county or place” box, enter “NYC-Manhattan Community District [number of your district]” and click Go. 

Search for tables

FactFinder might prompt you to “show more Geographies choices;” if that’s the case, click on that link and your CD will show up.

Check the box next to your CD, then click Close.

Check box

You should now see hundreds of tables of data available for your CD. The immigration and ancestry tables will be of particular interest.

To find tables with immigration data:

Go to the “Topic or table name” box and put in the following number: B05007. Then click go. Look at 2012 ACS 3-year estimates and 2012 ACS 5-year estimates for the info you need.

Place of birth

To find tables with ancestry data:

First, go to Your Selections (in the top left corner) and click the X next to B05007 to deselect it.

Close box

Now try looking for table B04001 in “Topic or table name.” Look at the ACS 5-year estimates to get First Ancestry reported information.

But don’t stop there. Try searching on other topics to see what’s available for your CD. For some real fun, type the word “Narrative” into the Topic box and see what you get.

If you’re into videos, here’s a clip with step-by-step instructions.


Nexis and Factiva: A Booster

Last week’s drill showed the need for a bit more support with clip searches. As I mentioned in class, I’m always available for one-on-one or small group tutorials; just email me and we’ll set up an appointment. In the meantime, here are search strategies to answer the questions on the drill, which I hope will give you a better understanding of Nexis and Factiva.

Using Nexis, find three quotes from Rob Astorino.

Our best bet: find articles primarily about Astorino in which he was interviewed. Here are the components of our search string.

hlead(rob! w/2 astorino)

This will search the headline and lead paragraph of stories to find the ones that mention Rob (or Robert or Robbie) within two words of Astorino. (We could do this search without using hlead, but let’s try it this way for demonstration purposes.) The ! is a truncation character, which makes Nexis look for the word “Rob” with any letters after it. Thus, this will find clips that mention Rob Astorino, Robert P. Astorino, or Rob “County Executive” Astorino right at the top.

astorino w/5 (say! or said)

This will find clips in which the name Astorino is mentioned within five words of the term say, says, saying or said.

Now, let’s put it together:

hlead(rob! w/2 astorino) and astorino w/5 (say! or said)

Pop it into Nexis and see what you find.

If you learn best by watching, here’s a quick video tutorial (certain to go viral and become the next YouTube sensation).

List the headlines of three recent Wall Street Journal stories about the vote for Scottish independence.

Since the Wall Street Journal is available only in Factiva, let’s search there. Here are the components of our search string:

sn=(wall street journal)

“sn” stands for “source name”

hlp=((scotland or scottish) and vot* and independ*)

This will search the headline and lead paragraph of stories to find ones that mention Scotland or Scottish right off the bat. The truncation character, *, after “vot” will find vote, votes, voting, voters, etc. Searching on “independ*” will find independence and independent. (Note that I didn’t truncate Scotland by using scot*, because that might have given us stories about guys named Scott, Scotch whiskey, etc.)

Putting it all together, we get:

sn=(wall street journal) and hlp=((scotland or scottish) and vot* and independ*)

Try running the search in Factiva and see what happens.

Here’s the video version.


Session 2: Clip Searches Using Nexis and Factiva

Sure, Google is great for gathering background material for your stories. But not everything is floating around the Internet for free, and the results you get from a web search are not always comprehensive or manageable. LexisNexis Academic and Factiva are fee-based databases that provide easily searchable archives of thousands of publications, including newspapers, magazines, newsletters, transcripts and major blogs.

A quick look at operators

Here are some key search tools, called operators, that will help you conduct an effective search.

Action Nexis Factiva
Searching within the headline or lead paragraph hlead(your terms here) hlp=(your terms here)
Searching for one than one mention of a term atleast#(term) atleast# term
Searching for terms that appear near each other term1 w/# term2 term1 w/# term2 OR
term1 near# term2
Boolean operators and | or | and not and | or | not
Length of article length > 750 wc > 750
Byline byline(author name) by=author name
Truncation character ! *
Wildcard * ?
Searching for a particular publication publication(name) sn=name

Let’s say you’re looking for examples of lawsuits filed by the families of inmates who died in New York State prisons. Here are some search strings that will help get you a collection of articles. (Note: you’ll want to search New York State news sources only.)

Nexis: hlead((inmate or prisoner) and (died or die or dying or death or slay! or slain or kill! or murder!) and (sue or sued or suing or suit or lawsuit))

Factiva: hlp=((inmate or prisoner) and (died or die or dying or death or slay* or slain or kill* or murder*) and (sue or sued or suing or suit or lawsuit))

Note that there are some key differences between Nexis and Factiva. Nexis lets you search within your set of results, while Factiva does not. Factiva, however, has some key sources that Nexis lacks: the Wall Street Journal, to name one.

Finding profiles

Nexis and Factiva are excellent resources for finding profiles of noteworthy people. A Times reporter recently asked for in-depth articles about Mitt Romney from the past nine months. If you were to enter the search term “Mitt Romney” on its own, you would get about 1,000 results. A targeted search will give you get a more manageable collection of articles:

Nexis: hlead(mitt w/2 romney) and atleast8(romney) and length > 750

Factiva:  hlp=(mitt w/2 romney) and atleast8 romney and wc > 750

To find stories where Romney was actually interviewed or quoted, add this:

Nexis: romney w/5 (said or say!)

Factiva: romney near5 (said or say*)

Access World News

And finally, on the subject of article databases, don’t forget about Access World News, a repository for smaller papers and international sources.

Here’s a link to today’s drill.

For further help with Nexis:

Session 1: How to Research Your CD Beat Memo

Manhattan, lower

So where do you find facts and statistics about New York and the people crazy enough to live there? is here to help.

  • The Department of City Planning Community Portal is your source for much of the beat-memo data: demographics, socio-economic characteristics, etc.
  • NYCityMap is a GIS resource to find data on a particular address/building. Type in an address and you’ll find the building owner, facts about the property, links to Department of Buildings violations and much more.
  • The NYC Green Book will give you the names and phone numbers of county, state, federal  and international officials. The city section is currently under construction.
  • How’s the city doin’, to paraphrase the late Ed Koch? Check out the Mayor’s Management Report, which offers a public report card on city services.
  • Are there Republicans on the Upper West Side? Find out on the NYC Board of Elections site, which shows voter enrollment, election results, etc.

And here are a few handy nongovernmental resources:

  • Oasis is a collaborative GIS with public/private partners, including CUNY.
  • ReferenceUSA will enable you to find people and businesses in New York and beyond.

This is, of course, just the beginning. For the full range of materials that will help you do a bang-up beat memo, consult the Research Center’s Guide to Community District Resources and

And now, for today’s drill.

Hello, and a bit of housekeeping

Greetings, Class of 2015. I’m Susan Campbell Beachy, your research adjunct for Craft I with Jan Simpson and Kate Lucadamo. We’ll cover the methods and resources for finding the facts, figures and people that will make your stories shine. Each one-hour research session will consist of a discussion of the topic at hand, followed by a fun and exciting (no, really) drill. Here’s the plan:

  • Tues., Sept. 9: How to Research Your CD Beat Memo
  • Tues., Sept. 16: Clip Searches Using Nexis and Factiva
  • Tues., Oct. 7: People Finding
  • Tues., Oct. 14: Finding Experts
  • Tues., Oct. 21: Courts and Legal Research
  • Tues., Nov. 25: Fact-Checking
  • Tues., Dec. 9: Google and Beyond
Your research grade will be calculated as follows:
  • 50% – CD Beat Memo
  • 25% – research grade for one story
  • 25% – fact-checking assignment

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any research-related questions. If you spend more than 20 minutes wrestling with something, email me at susan.beachy[at] and I’ll give you a hand. I ask only three things of you:

  1. Tell me the ways you’ve already tried to find the information. This will prevent me from running over the same ground, and it will also show me areas where the class might need help.
  2. Give me a deadline. If it’s two hours from now, I’ll see what I can do. If it’s in two weeks, let me know that too.
  3. After I send you information, please let me know you’ve received it, and if it meets your needs.

Keep an eye on this blog for recaps of each session and interesting links. I look forward to working with you and turning you into research nerds by December.