Researching Businesses and Non-Profits


Public and Private Companies

Public Companies are U.S. companies that have issued securities through an initial public offering (IPO), which are traded on a stock exchange or market.

Private Companies in the United States are not regulated by the federal government, except for the requirements of legal agreements, such as the leasing of equipment (UCC filings), or ownership of property which are a matter of public record.  It is at the discretion of a private company if, and what, they decide to disclose about their business operations.

fyi:  Forbes annual list of America’s Largest Private Companies 2015  is a good reference source.

Public Company Info

The Securities and Exchange Commission requires all public companies in the U.S. to disclose specific details about their operations and securities offerings in documents known as SEC filings. These filings provide a clear view of a company’s history, current activities and strategic plans and are considered to be the most complete source of essential company information.  

          SEC Company Filings Search  Sample Query:  Zulily, Inc.

7 Key SEC Filings: 

  • Registration Statement: Often referred to as the Form S-1 (a.k.a. Initial Public Offering (IPO) filings, and Prospectus). Filed when a company issues stock; requisite for all new companies. Loaded with useful information; usually contains a detailed description of how the business operates, its history, management, financial condition, the CEO’s employment contract, information about the amount and location of real properties owned by the corporation.
  • 8-K Current reports on all matters of importance in the current life of the corporation: movement of executives or directors; corporate changes, merger announcements; litigation news, etc. The SEC requires immediate disclosure (1-3 days from occurrence) for a number of events, including restated earnings, bankruptcy, acquisitions or disposition of assets, and departures or executive appointments.
  • 10-Q Filed three times a year, at the end of each of the first three quarters; the precursor to the 10-K; details the company’s latest developments and provides a preview of the direction of the company.
  • 10-K Filed annually after the end of the 4th quarter, and provides the most comprehensive analysis of the company. Describes domestic and international operations, business segments, history, real estate, supply chain, patents, licenses, litigation, R&D, competition & employees.  Provides audited financial statements. Includes information about the leadership – top management bios, including prior work history and current board activity.  Also includes the CEO’s explanation of the company’s financial condition and operations; excellent source of intelligence about corporate strategy, market competitors, and future directions. (If the company is too new to have filed a 10-K, then the Form S-1 is a fine substitute.)
  • 13-G (a.k.a. Beneficial Ownership): Any outside investor who purchases 5% or more of a company’s stock is required to complete a Form 13-G.
  • Proxy Statement (DEF-14A) – official notification of matters voted on at the annual shareholder’s meeting; includes compensation (salary, bonus, stock options) for company management; salaries and bios of board members, corporate committee membership and scope, and more
  • 20-F  The 10-K equivalent for foreign companies trading on a U.S. stock exchange. (For more foreign company information, use online company site or a fee-based service such as Thomson ONE.)

If a required SEC document is not filed on time or not filed at all, this is a red flag.  Check Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, the online publications library in either Nexis or Factiva to see if there is news associated with this event.

In addition to the SEC, here are two premium web products that include information on private and foreign companies.  Available via the J-School Database list

Mergent​​​  contains company reports, both domestic and international, executive bios, shares held by institutional holders, annual reports and more.   Sample Query: Nestle S.A., Koch Industries, KS

Hoover’s Academic  A full subscription features in-depth information on over 40,000 public, private, U.S., and international companies covered by Hoover’s industry experts; includes coverage of more than 600 industries.   Sample Query: BP (British Petroleum), Koch Industries


Additional Sources of Company/Industry Information

Earnings Call Transcripts is a free searchable online source for discussion by executives of publicly held companies, of the financial results of a reporting period. Done by way of an 800 number and on the internet.

Newswires ​​via AP, Reuters, DJNewswire, Agence France Press…EDITED by someone outside the company; includes information released by the company, but may also include additional relevant information; provides a level of objectivity. 

Press Releases​​ via PRNewswire, Businesswire, M2Presswire; directly from the company; no editing; selling image; CAVEAT!

Companies are required to file papers of incorporation with the office of the Secretary of State in the state where their business will be conducted, e.g. NYS Department of State.  No financial data is available, but basic name, rank, serial #

Lawsuits ​​​​are also a good way to sleuth out information, especially about private companies.  Use the following resources for lawsuits filed in Federal, State or Local courts:

Don’t forget the Better Business Bureau

Other countries like the U.K.  and Canada have their own institutions for company filings:

There’s always a story to be told about corporate influence on elections and government business.

Researching Non-Profits

Section 501(c) of the IRS Code defines nonprofit charitable tax exempt organizations; most nonprofits fall under section 501(c)3 

Form 990 is the annual reporting return that certain tax exempt organizations must file with the IRS.  Like the Form 10K which publicly held companies must file annually, the Form 990 provides information on the nonprofit’s mission, programs and finances. Here’s a good tutorial on How to Read the New IRS Form 990, courtesy of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York.

Guidestar is a 501(c)3 public charity that collects information about IRS-registered nonprofit organizations.  Best source for information about nearly 2 million nonprofits. Information available about each nonprofit’s mission, finances, programs, governance, and more.  If you’re doing a quick search or need only a little information, use the free basic search.  For more extensive research and analysis,  subscribe to GuideStar Premium or GuideStar Premium Pro.  Guidestar Premium is available via the J-School Database List.  Please remember to Logout when you’ve completed your search.

Sample Search:  Oxford House

Guidestar’s Highlights from IRS 990s

Guidestar Tips

Guidestar FAQs

CitizenAudit  Search 10 years of form 990s for every charity that files them. Search by organization name, or search for any word or person within the body of documents.  (j-School access)

Charity Navigator — good financial evaluations of nonprofits

Investigating Charities – International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

Dig deeper into a nonprofit’s finances – Center for Investigative Reporting

ProPublica’s free 990 Explorer  Search over 1.8 million tax returns for tax-exempt organizations and see financial details such as their executive compensation, revenues and expenses.  You can browse raw IRS data released since 2013 and access tax filing documents going back as far as 2001.

Which organizations are not required to file the Form 990?

  • Faith-based organizations
  • State institutions
  • Nonprofits that have not received tax-exempt status
  • Subsidiary organizations whose corporate bodies have already filed






Advanced Backgrounding for Reporters

Advanced back-grounding requires more than the general sweep for names, addresses and telephone numbers; it commands greater scrutiny, knowledge of available resources, and a willingness to lift the carpet and suss out the nuggets of data and information.

Find Contacts/Family/Neighbors


Social Media

If you’re working on the cheap, then Google, and social media networks are an intuitive and familiar first stop – Spokeo Facebook Twitter


Public Records by State & County 




If you’ve got a few bucks in the treasury, then Accurint public records database is a great jumping off point when going after background on relatives, neighbors, property, past/present employment, professional licenses, bankruptcy, death, divorce, criminal record… (See Barbara in the J-School Research Center – she’ll search for you).

In class sample search:  Paul Massey, Jr.



Reference USA is another valuable backgrounding tool; in addition to its datasets of company information, RefUSA’s datasets of Standard White Pages, and New Movers are loaded with information.  And you can find it on the J-School database list.

LexisNexis – Public records lookup (access via the J-School Research Center; Barbara or Tinamarie will log you in). 


If you made a positive hit in your initial public records search, then chances are you’ve found additional bits and pieces that might prove useful as you build that profile.

Let’s have a look at a few possibilities:


Property Records

In addition to Accurint, get acquainted with the NYC Department of Finance Property Records and in particular, ACRIS (short for Automated City Register Information System.)

All property sales in New York City and its boroughs are a matter of public record.  Anyone can look up information about deeds, past sale prices and mortgage info for  specific properties. Records go back to 1966.

Want to know whether your subject is current with his/her property tax payments? Have your address or BBL (borough, block lot data) ready to search your subject’s account history.

Caveat:  While the online presence offers convenience, be mindful that you may not always find the most current data.

Tax Warrants

If someone owes taxes to the State of New York, a Tax Warrant , which is a lien against your property (including personal property), is the State’s legal action against you.  These warrants are initially filed with the county clerk, and are a matter of public record; warrants are later filed with NYS Department of State.  Searchers are encouraged to search in the offices of the appropriate county clerk(s) to determine the most recent status of filing(s) against a given taxpayer.


Professional Licensing and Misconduct/Discipline 

The New York State Education Department exercises oversight of the licensing of professionals, and its staff investigate and prosecute professional misconduct and unlicensed practice.  Data is reported in the New York State Professional Licensing Database.   Records of Professional Misconduct are reported here. Updated daily, and considered to be a primary source.

The Appellate Divisions of the State Supreme Court regulate and discipline lawyers in New York State; unfortunately, most current data is for January 2014, making the cases library less than ideal.  Contact information for the court is available. Since early 2015, it has gotten easier to find out if an attorney practicing in New York has been disbarred, or suspended. In addition to finding out if an attorney is registered and from which law school he or she graduated, New York State’s online attorney database now contains attorneys’ disciplinary history.


Verifying Employment or Education

Accurint  has a People at Work database (See Barbara in Research Center – she’ll search for you).
NYC Civil List  provides names and titles of NYC employees
SeeThruNY  gives New York’s taxpayers insight into how their tax dollars are being spent.
Call the University’s registrar office

Back-grounding the Well-Known

In addition to the go-to Google search, the J-School’s Research Center Database List provides several resources for gathering bio-background on well-known persons; here are a few sources you should remember:

When searching for profiles of prominent persons, consider the following search strategy: hlead(firstname w/3 lastname) AND atleast4 (lastname) AND length(>900) (Word count and ‘atleast’ command added when looking for extended profile pieces.)

Dow Jones Factiva

Access World News.  Good for small regional and community papers.  Use Shortcuts-USA-New York (in left navigation bar)

Biography Reference Bank.  Biographical information on over half a million well-known individuals.

Literature Resource Center.  Biographical information on more than 130,000 contemporary writers

Guide to Accessing NY FOIL

J-School’s FOIL Guide



Researching the Explainer


Explanatory Journalism synthesizes, clarifies, adds depth, and context to issues that are complex or confusing to the reader. It is less an effort to report the news and more an exercise in making sense of the important news stories that come at us with such speed and currency, and in such great volume.

The explainer gives the reader perspective that he/she might miss with a straightforward narrative and accompanying photographs.



It all starts with reporting and gathering background research on the topic.

Look for experts early on in the process, as they can point you to new research, databases, government agencies, or even to major stories that will help you to better explain the subject to your audience.

In addition to the selected sources listed here, use scholarly journals, news and subject-specific databases, research institutes, government agencies, and interest groups, to look for experts, and to gather research material:

The Brookings Institution Experts   Allows keyword search; great topic options in left nav bar.

CUNY Faculty and Staff Experts

Pew Research Center Experts

Domestic Violence Experts

Council on Foreign Relations Experts

Leadership Directories available via the J-School Database List (another decent source for finding experts)

Remember authors love to talk about the subjects they are well versed in.

A Google search for experts is always in order:  experts “childhood immunizations”, experts “food safety”

LinkedIn experts search



As you set a plan in motion, think about the questions you will need to answer, and, think of the best and most likely source for your answers. (think tanks, report, watchdog organization, academic, public official)

Popular News Databases – clip searches help to provide the background you will need as you not only look for experts on topic, but inform yourself so that you can prepare smart questions, the answers to which will be grist for your explainer.

  • LexisNexis, Factiva, Google Scholar Use the Advanced Search page to look for scholarly articles

Scholarly Journals

Reports, Studies, Transcripts…

  • For policy issues consider the National Conference of State Legislatures, where one can find a breakdown of laws in each state on any issue.
  • Journalist’s Resource database of scholarly research on a wide variety of topics, collected for journalists. An open-access site that curates scholarly studies and reports.
  • NYC Council Committee Reports and Testimony Click on a Committee, then a Meeting Details, then File#, then Details tab for Report, Testimony and Transcripts.
  • Cryptome Leaked documents. Search within site using Google Toolbar
  • INFOdocket publishes reports from government, think tanks, interest groups…
  • C-Span Archives: Every C-SPAN program aired since 1987. Accessible through the database and electronic archival systems developed and maintained by the C-SPAN Archives.
  • GovTrack.  Track and research legislation before Congress; find voting records, bill sponsors, calendar of upcoming committee meetings…
  • CNN Transcripts

 The Stats (a selection)


If your story’s intent is to explain the impact of the Obama administration’s Drone Strike policy on U.S. efforts to defeat terrorism, then a search of Nexis and or Google alone won’t cut it.


If you are attempting to write an explainer on the development of the medical marijuana industry in the U.S. …



The Explainer Comes Wearing Many Hats

As we quickly review examples of ‘explainer’ journalism, keep an eye open for the behind-the-scenes research so vital to the clarity of each explainer.



SLATE Explainers



In 2014, Ezra Klein, formerly of the NYTimes, created Vox in an effort to explain traditional news stories.  Vox Cards or Explainer Cards is one way in which Klein and company present explainers.

Vox Card Stacks.  Vox Cards break complex news down to bite-sized, informative and manageable stories.



The use of Graphs and Charts when attempting to visually explain a complex issue can do wonders to shed light on the story. Investigate a wide range of sources and be sure to get facts and expert opinions from those in the field.

Greece Economic Crisis  By the numbers – the Greek economic crisis.  Produced by The Economist. The Hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370



Timelines or Chronologies are valuable explainers. They help the writer to trace the origin of a particular issue, show its progression and provide the writer with a template on which to anticipate its next iteration

Origin of the Zika Virus



A good graphic can be an excellent platform for serious explanatory journalism; this is the case with a graphic published in the Canadian paper National Post:

Anatomy of a Stoning  takes a custom which is not only anathema to those of us who live in the West, but offensive if viewed in photographic or video form and, using the medium of a graphic narrative, informs its readership of the ancient and still-practiced parts of the Iranian Penal Code – the act of stoning adulterers and murderers.

Note the sourcing of research material used for this strip.



Maps give the reader a visual – they show where a place is located. They offer context for many of us who are geographically challenged.

Sudan: A Country Divided


In Class Sample:

How Hard is it to Shoot Down a Passenger Plane?

Have a read of this short, concise and deeply researched explainer.  How and where might the author have gone to find verification for the news, facts and data included in this explainer?

Possible Sources: – military database, weapons training specialist, Malaysia Air website, news websites.






JULY 17 2014 4:10 PM

How Hard Is It to Shoot Down a Passenger Plane?

How rebels in Ukraine got a missile launcher.

By Boer Deng

The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is seen in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Wreaking this kind of havoc wouldn’t be hard if you had the right equipment.

Photo by Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Update, 6:30 p.m.: U.S. officials have confirmed that Malaysia Airline Flight 17 was shot down by a missile.

After the sad, still unexplained loss of Malaysia Airlines 370 in March, another luckless Malaysia Airlines flight crashed Thursday. It was presumably shot down by militants, while flying over the conflict-torn Donetsk region of Ukraine. Footage of smoking wreckage appeared on YouTube. All 295 passengers on board are thought to have been killed.

The flight, en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, was flying at 33,000 feet when reportedly hit by a projectile from a Buk missile launcher on the ground. Passenger planes typically fly at this altitude, and a Boeing 777 would be traveling at about 0.84 Mach, or a bit more than 600 mph, according to Boeing. Wouldn’t such a plane be hard to shoot down? Just how hard is it to shoot down a plane flying at cruising altitude?


The Explainer


A Buk missile launcher is a mobile system designed by the Soviets in the 1970s, which has since been upgraded over several iterations. The latest model, the Buk-M3, will be standard issue for the Russian military beginning in 2016. Militants are more likely to have older models Buk-M1 or Buk-M2, which Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union. These can launch missiles about 70,000 feet in the air and have sophisticated tracking systems for locking on to targets. They are designed specifically to shoot down planes. Buk systems have also been exported to China, India, and Georgia.

So for a person who’s trained, it “would not be hard to shoot down a plane of that size, going at that speed, from the ground,” says Steve Mastalerz, a weapons training specialist, and would certainly be “a deliberate act” using the system’s homing system. Commercial airlines, including Lufthansa, Virgin, and KLM, are all diverting their flights from eastern Ukraine.

Boer Deng writes for Nature. Follow her on Twitter.



  • Be clear about your objective: reader clarity and understanding
  • More is better; as you gather facts and data for your explainer, be mindful that you may not be certain just how much of that material you will eventually use. The larger your basket of information, the more options you have at your disposal, and the more readily apparent irrelevant information will be.
  • Use statistical data that will be illustrative and will be of added value in shedding light on the issue for your reader.
  • Be judicious in your use of numbers; keep in mind that an abundance of stats may yield an unintended consequence – confusion.
  • When using statistical data to illumine and inform, you may find a happy medium with no more than two or three data points per paragraph.
  • When using web search engines, remember that different search engines have different page caches; be sure to try a few: Google, Bing, Blekko,

Mining Census Data for Reporting

About the Census & the Annual American Community Survey



  • straight count of people who live in the U.S. Provides basic demographics – sex, age, race, Hispanic origin, and homeowner status (aka ‘tenure’)
  • Mandated by the Constitution.
  • Takes place every 10 years.
  • Determines the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Used to distribute billions in federal funds to state and local communities.
  • Now asks 10 “short form” questions (starting with Census 2010). Here’s a copy of the short form questionnaire:  Census 2010 Questionnaire


American Community Survey Estimates

Prior to the 2010 census, a ‘long form’ questionnaire was used to gather statistical data about the U.S. population.  This detailed information painted a picture of the demographic, social, and economic face of the nation – from states to counties to census tracts.   See sample here:  Census 2000 Long Form Questionnaire

Because data from the decennial census arrived in 10-year intervals, there was no way to harness and analyze population trends and other changes in the intervening years.

Congress asked the Census Bureau to bridge this gap with information and data about how the lives and circumstances of Americans change in those in-between years.

The American Community Survey estimates (ACS) is the result.

  • American Community Survey shows how people live.
  • ACS is the source for demographic and socio-economic data – citizenship, educational attainment, income, home ownership, travel time to work… and data is available, down to small areas (census tracts- about 4,000).
  • Annual data for the ACS is acquired from a series of detailed questions asked of each respondent, and is not unlike the old ‘long form’ questionnaire of decennial census 2000 and earlier; here’s a sample ACS Questionnaire.

Subjects included in the ACS survey


Each year, we get three types of datasets:

  • ACS 1-year estimates for populations of 65,000+ (2014)
  • ACS 3-year estimates for populations of 20,000+ (2011-2013)
  • ACS 5-year estimates for populations of any size (2010-2014)

This comparison table, courtesy of the ACS site, is helpful in determining which estimates one should consider using when looking for particular data.

1-year estimates 3-year estimates 5-year estimates
12 months of collected data 36 months of collected data 60 months of collected data
Data for areas with populations of 65,000+ Data for areas with populations of 20,000+ Data for all areas
Smallest sample size Larger sample size than 1-year Largest sample size
Less reliable than 3-year or 5-year More reliable than 1-year; less reliable than 5-year Most reliable
Most current data Less current than 1-year estimates; more current than 5-year Least current
Best used when Best used when Best used when
Currency is more important than precision

Analyzing large populations

More precise than 1-year, more current than 5-year

Analyzing smaller populations

Examining smaller geographies because 1-year estimates are not available

Precision is more important than currency

Analyzing very small populations

Examining tracts and other smaller geographies because 1-year estimates are not available



Understanding NYC Geographies

This very helpful Guide to Finding NYC Neighborhood Census Data, published by Baruch College, summarizes the different geographies (Census Tract, Public Use Microdata Areas, Neighborhood Tabulation Areas…) that are used to study our neighborhoods, and points to the available datasets for each geography.

Public Use Microdata Area(s) approximate New York City’s 59 community districts -about 100,000 persons.  A Census Bureau creation; there are 55 PUMAs in NYC. Here is a map of NYC PUMAs and Community Districts

Neighborhood Tabulation Area(s) are subsets of New York City’s PUMAs.  Created by the NYC Department of City Planning for presenting published census data; the Census Bureau does not publish data for NTAs.  The City created these 195 areas by aggregating census tracts based on neighborhoods.  Find Census Tract-to-PUMA-to-NTA equivalencies here:  NTA, census tract and PUMA equivalency.


Useful Tools for Finding Census Data for NYC Neighborhoods 

NYC Department of City Planning  is the prime stop on the trek for New York City census data.  Access is provided to the Decennial Census (2010), the ACS Survey, the NYC Census Factfinder, and Population Estimates for NYC.

When comparing CDs within a borough, SocialExplorer (CUNY J-School) has an easy-to- use interface.  Have a look at Barbara Gray’s excellent how-to for finding community data with SocialExplorer here: Tipsheet

Note: Income Data in SocialExplorer is adjusted for inflation.

Infoshare  (CUNY J-School).  Search by CD or neighborhood. Data tends to be not as current as found using SocialExplorer.  Income data is not adjusted for inflation! Use an inflation calculator.  To convert dollar values from earlier Census data to current values use the Consumer Price Index (calculator here)

Note:  The Census questionnaire requires respondents to report their income for the previous calendar year (e.g., for 2009 in the 2010 survey).

Census Reporter  is a tool for journalists (funded by the Knight News Challenge) to help reporters use American Community Survey census data to write stories.

The U.S. Census’ New American Factfinder is the repository for all things census; include the American Community Survey, the Decennial Census, the Annual Economic Surveys, the American Housing Survey, the Economic Census (published every five years); here’s the release schedule for releases of the most recent economic census (2012).



Making Comparisons

Be careful when comparing sets of ACS dataThis Census Bureau link will prove invaluable:  ACS/Census Table Comparisons

  • DO compare similar period lengths, e.g. 3-year to 3-year.
  • DON’T compare estimates from different period lengths, e.g. 1-year to 3-year.
  • DO compare estimates from non-overlapping periods, e.g. compare a 2005-2007 ACS 3-year estimate to a 2008-2010 ACS 3-year estimate.
  • DON’T compare overlapping periods, for example, the 2005-2007 ACS 3-year estimates to the 2006-2008 ACS 3-year estimates. 


Use ACS data to generate story ideas

  • Compare data year over year in an area to identify trends.
  • follow Barbara Gray’s Twitter list Census for Journos
  • Use latest data to examine how they affect your beat or community.
  • Take a national story, and localize it.
  • If you hear about a trend or issue on your beat, use Census data to illustrate or disprove.
  • All ACS data are estimates; you should ALWAYS identify them as such.  To help interpret the reliability of the estimate, a margin of error (MOE) is included for every ACS estimate.


Census Database Help

If you’re ever unsure about how to find or use specific data, call the Census Bureau’s Subject/Topic Contacts; you’ll need to be on the American Factfinder site when you call, so they can walk you through.  Or contact the bureau’s New York Regional Office


There’s No Religion Data in the US Census!

  • The Association of Religion Archives and Data (ARDA)  ARDA Archives and Data has produced a 2010 study of US congregations and membership; data tracks to the state and county level.



Advanced LexisNexis and Dow Jones FACTIVA


Advanced Searching Using LexisNexis Academic

It’s difficult to report, research, write, fact-check, and publish without wading into the territory of commercial databases like LexisNexis or Dow Jones FACTIVA.

This session will build on last term’s refresher, and will help to make search a more efficient exercise, yielding timely and useful results.

Let’s first refresh our recollection of the new LexisNexis Academic interface.



The large search window provides a clean surface on which to build your search strategy

The search by content type will be most useful when determining the type of sources you will be searching and the kind of content your search results will yield.

Your first order of business is to familiarize yourself with what’s behind the search by content type tab.

News-All News is the option of choice for most news searchers; there are other content options – legal, companies, people…




Select news-all news

Once you have made make your selection, notice that the widgets at the bottom of the page will disappear

Select advanced options



Advanced options lets you use precision search tools to hone your search and provide the best results.

Selecting the source type is critical in determining the quality of the results you will retrieve.

If you are only after newspaper reports that appear in the New York press, that option is available:

  • Select Advanced Options
  • Choose Newspapers
  • Scroll down to Geographic Location, and select New York State


Search for a magazine story only, or create a basket by combining sources.

  • Select Advanced Options
  • Choose Magazines or add Newspapers and Blogs

You may also want to grab specific types of articles – reviews, interviews, op-eds – make that selection from the article type option.


In addition to to the Boolean and, or, and not, Lexis Nexis Academic provides several precision search tools and connectors which, when used as part of your search strategy, will make for a more efficient use of your time as you use smart search strategies to produce targeted results.


Seven essential tools that will make the LexisNexis search experience a profitable one:

Hlead…..  finds results which contain your search terms in the headline and lead paragraph.  Sample: hlead (spitzer) w/35 assault or chok!

W/n…..  allows you to find your search terms within a certain number of words of each other.  Won’t affect word order.  Sample: de blasio w/35 iowa and stump or campaign w/35 hillary 

Byline….. finds articles written by someone.  Sample:  byline (Fred Kerber)

Atleastn….. Great tool when looking for profiles or features;will return documents that contain your search term atleast a certain number of times.  Sample: lloyd w/3 blankfein and atleast8 (blankfein) and date aft 2014

Length>or <…..  used to find articles with a certain number of words.  Sample:  hlead (san bernadino) w/25 shoot! or terror! and length>1000

Publication….. search for articles from a specific journal or newspaper, or magazine.  Sample:  publication (washington post) and date is 2/15/2016

 !……………… for words with multiple endings.  Sample: industr! yields industry, industrial, industrialization, industries


The build your own segment search lets you use those familiar segments, commands and connectors to narrow your search and produce more targeted results.


In-Class Drills:

  1. Looking for reviews of the film American Sniper
  • Select search by content type
  • Choose news-all news
  • Select advanced options
  • Select previous month from the date drop-down menu
  • Select article type movie reviews
  • Click apply
  • In the search window, type American sniper

Note:  the results list defaults to a rank order by relevance; you can change that to view newest or oldest reviews first.

Use left navigation bar for additional viewing options.



  1. Looking for the transcript of Sunday’s Meet the Press
  • Select search by content type
  • Choose newsbroadcast transcripts
  • Select advanced options
  • Choose date options
  • Choose NBC News from the sources group
  • Click apply
  • In the search window type meet w/3 press or meet the press 


  1. Looking for recent clips in the national press about disgraced Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
  • Select search by content type
  • Choose news-all news
  • Select advanced options
  • Choose date options
  • Source type defaults to newspapers; add magazines, blogs, business and industry news
  • Click apply
  • Use precision search tools to craft your search; e.g. hlead (sheldon silver) and atleast5(silver) and assembly and length>800
  • Click search


Advanced Searching using Dow Jones FACTIVA  

Factiva opens in the search tab and with the free text search form, but before we begin to create searches, let’s have a loo at what else Factiva offers.

Business reporters can take full advantage of the company/markets tab; use it to search for company information – quick profile, stock prices, industry and market competition.

Use the company tab to find a quick snapshot of McDonald’s Corporation.  Use the left navigation bar to ferret out key news or developments, current litigation issues, management moves, earnings announcements, and more.

Click on the quotes tab to find current and two years worth of historical stock prices, market indexes, and currency exchange rates.  In-Class Drill:   Find the daily high, low and close for Apple Inc. for the past month

Compare stock performances against peers, and common market indexes with the tab for market data charts.  In-Class Drill:  Compare the stock performance of Time Warner (TWX) and the Walt Disney Company (DIS)

Factiva’s news tab offers a glimpse of the latest news drawn from about 10 top news publications 

Factiva’s search tabs defaults to a free text search form with a three-month window of news from all sources.

Not unlike LexisNexis Academic, the search window gives the user full control to create targeted searches using Boolean search connectors, segment searching, and other precision search tools.

Of the Boolean connectors, AND and OR take top billing.


Eight key commands that provide greater efficiency when searching Factiva

Terms in the headline and lead paragraph:            hlp=interest rates

Words in proximity to each other:                             housing near15 foreclosures

Words appearing in the same paragraph                consumer same debt

Search for an author (byline):                                    by=david gergen

Length of an article:                                                      wc>1,000

Articles with many mentions of a term                  atleast5 deficit

Articles appearing in the same publication             sn=wall street journal

An * after a word will search for words with multiple endings   educat* will return results with multiple endings education, educator, educate


Selecting a Source(s)

Click on the all sources tab to confine your search to a specific publication or select from a group of sources.

For Example:

  • Select Source Category – All Sources/Top Sources
  • Click on:  Major News and Business Publications
  • Select:  Major News and Business Publications – U.S.

The + at left lets you drill down to specific titles.  You can also type in your source publication




In-Class Drills: 

1. Any clips on Chip Wilson founder of Lululemon Athletica Inc. since he stepped down from the clothing company’s board about a year ago

2. Find article appearing in the Wall Street Journal this year, which discusses the white     working class and their support of the Trump candidacy

3. Find pieces written by Felicia Schwartz this year

4. Looking for profiles of Janet Yellin, chair of the Federal Reserve

Social Media Research for Reporting


This presentation, and those for each of the remaining six research topics to be discussed this term, is intended to serve as a complement to the highly instructive research guides prepared by Barbara Gray and housed on the J-School’s Research Center.  You are encouraged to take full advantage of both.

Yes, it’s true, journalists are increasingly looking to the resources of social media to report, research, suss out sources and contacts, find interview prospects and essentially go all out in the attempt to add timeliness and value to their published work.

That said, as journalists, you are expected to bring to the social media table, all of the requisite skepticism you so doggedly employ when using the traditional research tools of your trade.

Before you make the decision to use content you’ve gathered via social media ask and bust your chops to answer these four basic questions:

  1. Is this the original piece of content?
  2. Who uploaded the content? (source)
  3. When was the content created? (date)
  4. Where was the content created? (location)

One of the best resources for verifying the accuracy of content found on social media (especially those of the breaking news variety), is the Verification Handbook.  We’ll revisit this discussion shortly. This handbook and several other tools are included in Barbara Gray’s excellent Tipsheet for Social Media Research and Newsgathering.

It’s also worth mentioning that as journalists, you should not rely solely on social media resources to tell the story; be prepared to use them in combination with traditional, and other people search tools.

In that vein, if you’re caught in the grip of a breaking news story, and are desperate to contact a source(s), if you have a name, then consider Spokeo or Thatsthem as ports of first call.  They may each prove quite useful in quickly finding your subject’s social media footprint.

  • Spokeo.  Try the J-School’s paid version for name searches.  Password available once you sign in with your WordPress protocols.  Spokeo mines social networks and public records data to return search results that usually include email addresses, telephone numbers, usernames and relatives
  •  Thatsthem.  Like Spokeo, Thatsthem helps you to find the person with the information you have (username, email, phone number). Free search.

TIP:  The content of public records databases will always be there; not so for social media content.  In times of controversy, scandal, inappropriate comments – disappearing tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram images, and even personal sites and pages are more the norm than the exception. Go after those social media profiles first – grab that screen or snap shot asap.

Barbara Gray’s tipsheet suggests:

  • captures your web research in a single hub you can access anywhere. Download the Web Clipper for Chrome, it will take a snapshot of a page and file it in your notes.

Using Facebook for Reporting and Newsgathering

Facebook’s subscribers have populated their pages with the nuggets from their lives that provide rich color, and are the very tools the intrepid journalist can use to suss out information about a source, and this information can often be transferred to other social platforms:

name, hometown, phone, email, username, current and past employment, aliases, family members, friends, birthday, posts, photos, groups, likes, current and previous residence, schools attended, sexual preference, gender, relationship, anniversary, languages, places visited, events attended or plan to attend, networks.  This is good grist for the journalist


Facebook Graph Search

  • Facebook Graph Use the search bar at the top of your Facebook page to search for connections between people and things.
  • Search by name, school, workplace, friends, interests, etc.
  • Searches profiles, pages, public posts,check-ins, photo captions, etc.


  • Use Google’s superior search engine to search for text within links and URLs.  Use the ‘site’ operator and add keywords, or names, e.g. LaVoy Finicum 
  • If you are trying to contact someone who is a member of a closed group, e.g. Polar Bear Friends, try messaging or friending the group’s administrator and ask that he/she post a query for you.
  • To avoid having your message land in the FB user’s ‘other’ folder, you can send a direct message to his/her FB inbox for a charge of only $1.


Using Twitter for Reporting and Newsgathering

Twitter search tools

Those of you who are familiar with Google’s advanced search page will feel quite at home with Twitter Advanced Search PageTake full advantage of this template to help you filter your searches by location, user, date.

When you construct your search, Andy Carvin at suggests you use language you would expect the Tweeter to use.  In the case of breaking news, consider keywords like fire, explosion, gunshots; and combine them with expletives that usually populate tweets from real time disasters, criminal acts and acts of terror – WTF, shit, fuck – or terms like omg!  Add a location search – near: Lincoln Center.

Daniel Victor at the New York Times suggests you:

  • Search for personal stories; include the words: me, I or my

Sample Search: I building safe OR ok OR okay to find “I was in the building but I’m safe”: I, safe, OK

  • Try to find someone who knows a person in the news: my sister OR brother OR cousin OR friend OR neighbor OR father OR mother OR uncle OR aunt OR colleague 


Tagged on the site as ‘a smarter way to search Twitter’, TwXplorer (sign in with your Twitter protocols) lets you find tweets on topic, and that’s where the similarities with a traditional Twitter search end.  The results of a TwXplorer search show the most recent tweets, commonly used terms, hashtags and the mostly frequently shared links.  TwXplorer also offers the option to search Twitter Lists you have created or are subscribed to.  A great way to stay current with news about your beats.  When you click on any term, hashtag or link in your search result, TwXplorer returns only the subset of search results containing the term you clicked on.  The ‘saved snapshots’ option helps you (especially with breaking news) to save your search for later viewing.

Sample Search:  NYC Homeless; Weiner Documentary; Bloomberg for President. (review results). 

  • It’s all about connections.  Compare/analyze followers and friends with TwiangulateThis tool can prove quite useful if you are following a particular beat, and want to add valuable sources to your Twitter List.

Sample Search:  Find Twitter profiles followed by both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

Sample Search:  Look for Twitter followers of both Barbara Gray and Margot Williams



A list is a curated group of Twitter users. You can create your own lists or subscribe to lists created by others. Viewing a list timeline will show you a stream of Tweets from only the users on that list.

Note: Lists are used for reading Tweets only. You cannot send or direct a Tweet to members of a list, for only those list members to see.

To create a list:  (In class ‘do now’)

  1. Go to your Lists page. This can be done via your profile picture drop down menu in the top right navigation bar or by going to your profile page and clicking on Lists, also in the right hand navigation bar.
  2. Click Create list.
  3. Enter the name of your list, a short description of the list, and select if you want the list to be private (only accessible to you) or public (anyone can subscribe to the list).  E.G. Name: BK12     Description:  Useful Information for Residents of Brooklyn’s Community District 12
  4. Click Save list. 

You can now comb Twitter for persons with expertise or organizations with similar interest and add same to your list(s).

TwitterTip: If you add someone to a list but DON’T follow them, they will not receive a notification that they have been added to a list and will not know that they are being monitored via a list.  Really helpful if you are doing investigative reporting.


Tweetdeck Twitter’s social media dashboard is a lovely housekeeping tool.  Sign in with your personal Twitter account at to get started.  TweetDeck allows you the flexibility to create columns to display specific content that interest you – Twitter Lists, Mentions, , the results of a search query, a list of favorites, the latest Tweets from a hashtag or trend, etc.

All My Tweets

A useful tool for the investigative reporter is All My Tweets.  Sign in with your Twitter account; enter a username, and search for all of a user’s tweets on one page.  Option available to filter out retweets and to hide replies

Sample Search: Find all the tweets sent by City Council leader Melissa Mark-Viverito ( username: @mmviverito)

 Hashtags:  First Use

Are you trying to find the first time that a popular hashtag was used on Twitter?  Have a go at Who Tweeted it First – search keywords or a link to see who tweeted it first.

Sample Search:  #blacklivesmatter 

First Tweets

Looking for someone’s first tweet?  If it’s a public profile, MyFirstTweet  will find it. This link shows the result of a search for Barbara Gray’s first tweet.  

Deleted Tweets

  • Google or Bing Cache may search using URL
  • Search Twitter, Google or Bing for Retweet using words in the Tweet
  • Snapbird search a user’s Tweets, and can find deleted Tweets if you’re early.



Best practices suggest a search of Google, using the ‘site’ function, to find pictures/photos of (breaking) news events that have been posted on Instagram.

Sample Search: “new york city marathon”.

If the Instagram account holder has a Twitter account, a link will usually be provided; easy way to send a tweet requesting additional information, an interview, or permission to use the photo. 

It’s worth mentioning that  Gramfeed allows you to search hastags and locations


LinkedIn Social Search

  • Join LinkedIn for Journalists
  • Advanced search (must be logged in to use this direct link) can search by keyword, name, location, current or past employees
  • Alumni search can search for classmates at a certain school, during a certain time period
  • If you can’t see a name in a profile on Twitter or LinkedIn try an “X-Ray Search” – just copy and paste the details from their profile into Bing or Google


A Word about Geolocating

Verifying the location of social media content is a very important requisite before going to print or uploading that photo or video.; and not all social media is geolocated.  Twitter provides the option to include ‘location’ on the advanced search page, but the experts say it is not foolproof.

The Verification Handbook offers some practical ways to attempt to certify the veracity of the content; I’ve pasted some of them here, and I encourage you to read Chapter 9 (Creating a Verification Process and Checklist(s))

  • Find reference points to compare with satellite imagery and geolocated photographs, such as:
    • Signs/lettering on buildings, street signs, car registration plates, billboards, etc. Use Google Translate or for online translation.
    • Distinctive streetscape/landscape such as mountain range, line of trees, cliffs, rivers, etc.
    • Landmarks and buildings such as churches, minarets, stadiums, bridges, etc.
      • Use Google Street View or Google Maps’ “Photos” function to check if geolocated photographs match the image/video location.
      • Use Google Earth to examine older images/videos, as it provides a   history of satellite images. Use Google Earth’s terrain view.
  • Use Wikimapia, the crowdsourced version of Google Maps, to identify landmarks.
  • Weather conditions such as sunlight or shadows to find approximate time of day. Use Wolfram Alpha to search weather reports at specific time and place.
  • License/number plates on vehicles
  • Clothing

Source:  Verification Handbook 

More Verification Tools & Techniques

Sample Search:  @ BarbGray








Advanced Web Searching – Beyond Google


Going Google

 The word ‘Google’ has become so ingrained in our language and culture that the phrase “Google it,” or “Let’s do a Google search” have become as ubiquitous as the oft-used “Make a Xerox of this,” or “Do a Nexis…”

Popular search engines like Bing, Google and Yahoo are limited in the amount and quality of the search results they return.

Their inability to crawl the content found in databases like LexisNexis Academic, and resources that are housed behind pay walls a la our J-School database list, or the New York Public Library’s electronic resources, or sites that require registration, makes more believable the estimates which suggest that Google searches less than half of what’s available on the web.

That said, all’s not lost if you employ savvy and strategy in your search; and whether you are using Google News or Google Scholar (which, by the way, is also a cool source for finding expert knowledge), the Google Advanced Search is an excellent starting point, especially if you consider yourself an average searcher.

 Google Advanced Search

When you use Google’s advanced search page, the menu-driven search-building scheme is a great palette for mapping your search strategy; it assists your search by eliminating the need to remember Boolean connectors, or the use of ” ” to find phrases; you can also limit the quality and quantity of results by language, geography, and by specific types of websites or domains. Think of this page as a space where you can hone your search.

Of course, you’re always free to use the basic Google Search page to build a search strategy; just remember a few details:

  • Use of the Boolean AND is no longer essential; Google interprets adjacent terms, e.g. budget deficit to mean budget AND deficit.
  • Always use the OR in allcaps when using synonyms in your search.
  • Use “ “ if you want Google to search for phrases or for words next to each other; “obesity rates” or “Hurricane Katrina.”
  • If you are searching for an individual, be sure to allow for a middle name or initial to pop up in your search results; Ethan * Simon, Hillary * Clinton
  • If you wish to limit your search to a particular website or domain, then your search strategy should look like this: “marc gasol” or ebola
  • You can even do a bit of Nexis-like proximity searching; use AROUND (n) to link terms, e.g. SNAP AROUND 15 nutrition benefits

More Google Search Operators

Deep Web Search Engines

The Infotopia search engine curates trusted websites, selected by librarians and teachers. Check out the news  and opinion polling tab and see a selection of the resources that Infotopia mines.

Find free, federal legislative information on THOMAS on the Web.  Launched in 1995. Search by keyword or bill sponsor and find the latest status of legislation.

Rather than searching the web, Wolfram Alpha allows you to find your answer by performing dynamic computations.  If you aren’t particularly strong at sorting out decimals and percentages and fractions then you will want to make this site a favorite. Great knowledge bank.

Looking for a repository of primary sources for text, audio, and video of American public speeches, debates and interviews?  American Rhetoric provides transcripts of the top 100 speeches and is a cool addition to any virtual reference shelf.

The National Library of Medicine produces MedlinePlus reports reliable up-to-date information about diseases, conditions, and wellness issues.  You can also find out about clinical trials, and get links to the latest medical research.


Beyond Google – Finding Government Data and Statistics

Most of the nation’s primary economic indicators are produced by one of three federal statistics agencies – the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  Here’s a handy cheat sheet of which agency produces what data.  Contact BEA’s subject matter experts

If you want to find out how the buying power of the dollar has changed over the years use this CPI Inflation Calculator.

The C.I.A. World Fact Book provides current facts on every geographic entity in the world – population, history, religion, politics, economy, literacy…

For all things population-related, stay connected to the Population Reference Bureau.  The very popular World Population Data Sheet is loaded with useful social and demographic data on income, life expectancy, population, birth/death statistics, and more.


Beyond Google – Reports and Documents 

Docuticker’s Docubase offers a frequently updated selection of reports from government agencies, NGOs, think tanks and other public interest organizations.

The Congressional Research Service provides reports to members of congress on a variety of current and relevant topics


Beyond Google – The War on Terror

 Looking for statistics of military deaths and casualties in the recent Operation Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan’s Operation Enduring Freedom?  iCasualties provides detailed data, by month, year, cause and location.

Iraq Body Count is probably the best source available for verifying data on Iraqi civilian deaths and casualties after the invasion of Iraq in 2003






Finding Experts


I need to talk to an expert in:

Unemployment in New York State

Renewable Energy


Noise Pollution

Early Childhood Education

Affordable Housing

Income Inequality

Urban Renewal


When the news breaks and you’re on deadline, and need to talk with someone who knows more about the issue than you, it’s unrealistic to think your first thought will be “ok, let me do a quick Nexis dbase search and look for experts in this area.”

College and University websites are rich in expert knowledge across a variety of disciplines, and are often a first call for many journalists.

Our CUNY system is an excellent place to start.

Why contact an institution of higher learning; why not just do a quickie Google search for expert “alternative energy” bronx “new york”?

Glad you asked.

Universities and Colleges offer some of the most fertile soil when contemplating  of whom you may solicit expert knowledge; their faculties meet much of the criteria when seeking to find credible, non-biased experts, and institution leaders are eager to provide expert facts and comment.   

John or Jane Q. Skeptic Journalist that you are, look for:

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

 CUNY’s well-organized web sites will quickly point you to an area of expertise.

NOTE: In the interest of time, try to contact the person directly rather than go through public information officers.

The find a contact page for John Jay College of Criminal Justice is your ‘go to’ spot when trying to understand crime statistics or DNA analysis or youth gangs or counter terrorism strategies.  John Jay’s protocol requires you to go through its pr representative.

For those If you seek expertise on the history of immigration from Latin America to the United States, childhood education, food and nutrition, low income housing issues, don’t skip over Lehman College.  Contact information is provided by the Office of Media Relations, and you are also free to view brief bios, find email and telephone contact information on the main page

Baruch College’s press room provides a subject matter list of expert knowledge.  The span of expertise covers a wide spectrum – from economics and entrepreneurship to politics and music and fine arts.

If urban and public health is your area of focus, then Hunter College’s faculty expert database ought to be on your checklist.  The easy to use search engine allows you to search by topic or name.  In addition to brief bios, email and telephone contact information is provided for each expert.

Other Universities’ Experts 

If you are unfamiliar with NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, then make a note of their team of experts.  The staff at the Furman Center produce reports and studies on housing, neighborhood change and urban policy.  Have a look at one of their featured reports, state of new york’s housing and neighborhoods.

If your focus is race and ethnicity, or common core standards, literacy, politics and education, then Columbia University Teachers College research experts must be part of your expert knowledge list.

Need an expert who can discuss with authority, issues concerning school reform and the achievement gap; art and the performing arts; the community and environment?  NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture and Human Development, offers a valuable link to faculty experts

The Wagner Graduate School of Public Service (part of NYU) is also a valuable resource when looking for faculty experts  in matters concerning affordable housing, business improvement districts, air pollution and economic policy 

Additional Resources for Finding Experts

The American Statistical Association media experts list provides a pool of impartial statistical experts willing to help reporters analyze data. Very helpful when trying to make sense of important and meaningful data, distinct from agenda driven numbers.

Use LinkedIn‘s advanced search page to look for experts; have a go at looking for experts in Legionnaires disease in the Bronx

Staff at the Pew Research Center, provide comprehensive analysis of social, demographic and other trends shaping the U.S. and the world.  The list of experts  is a valuable resource for any reference shelf; and stay abreast of Pew’s experts on social media via twitterpew

The “About Us” of Think Tanks

Council on Foreign Relations

National Review Institute

New York Think Tanks


The Journalists Resource  portal from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center is an excellent source for finding experts and story ideas.  It curates scholarly studies, reports and data on issues being discussed in today’s news.  The research is arranged by topic, and, under creative commons license, is freely available for journalists.  No registration is required.  Tremendous feeding trough for story ideas.

The Green Book Online is the official ( browsable) directory of the City of New York.

When you want to see who’s writing scholarly articles on your topic, don’t sleep on Google Scholar or Science Direct

Finally, if you are on a long-term project, or if you’ve got a month or so to bring your story from concept to reality, then do perform due diligence with a basic clip search – LexisNexis, Dow Jones FACTIVA, Google News or Google Scholar, or Bing (which now includes twitter).

Remember, your approach will yield results on two fronts – finding an expert and substantively informing yourself on the topic to the end that you will be able to formulate smart questions.

Researching Cops and Crime

Crime Stats

NYPD Weekly Crime Statistics (CompStats) are arranged by Precinct, and provide current data on major crimes; some older citywide data also available.

For historical statistics for crime in your CD or neighborhood, email  or call media relations 518 457-8828. Data is offered courtesy of the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Though not as current, crime stats, broken down to the Police Precinct level can also be found at the Citywide Performance Reporting (CPR) site.  Scroll down the agency list to NYPD; find citywide crime stats arranged by fiscal year and by index crime – murder, rape, robbery, assault…  Click on the globe icon to view data by indicator and by precinct.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner, Public Information  Staff in the office of the DCPI is the official arm of the NYPD which gathers information from multiple agencies and responds to incidents of disasters, major crimes, demonstrations and disorders.  All media inquiries are routed through the DCPI.  Open 24/7.

NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services is your go to source when researching crime trends in the state. Statistics on Index Crimes – murder, rape, larceny, vehicle theft, robbery, assault, burglary – law enforcement and arrests are current.  If you are keen on researching crime trends by region or by county this is a solid start.


New York City and New York State Criminal Case Information

Webcrims – a service of the New York State Unified Court System – is the best resource for finding pending case information.

Follow directions and login as a public user.

Let’s use Tyrone Howard  (arrested in the shooting and killing of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder) as our test case.

Select the search by name of defendant option; use the information found in the Daily News article to select the case details that best meet the time frame of the incident.

A summary of the case details will provide very valuable information about the individual who has been arrested: New York State Identification Number, Case Number, Attorney information, Date and Location of the incident, Next Court Date.

The charges against him are available in the left navigation bar.

If, in addition, you want to find out where the individual is being detained, the NYS ID Number and or the Case Number will prove essential; it’s rare that a reporter has an exact age.  A search of NYC Department of Corrections Inmate Lookup will yield useful case and docket information.

It is not uncommon to find case information, and even case documents on the county district attorney or Prosecutor website. No web presence?  Don’t hesitate, call the public information office.  (Bronx County D.A. Public Information 718 590-2234

If you are looking for inmates being held in the New York State Department of Corrections system, start here: NYS Inmate Lookup.

Another great resource is provided by the New York State Office of Court Administration; For a $65 fee, you can request a NYS Criminal History Search; results are public records relating to open/pending and convictions of criminal cases originating from County/Supreme, City, Town and Village courts of all 62 counties.  Online application available; results are usually emailed in 24-48 hours.

If your background research takes you on a search for NY State parolees (former or current), then you will want to take full advantage of this parolee lookup of parolees currently or formerly in the care of the NY State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

And if you’re trying to see if there is a story to be told about the number of registered sex offenders residing in a particular NY zip code, then the NYS Public Registry of Sex Offenders will be a great starting point.

Federal Cases and Criminal History

P.A.C.E.R. is the source for federal, district and bankruptcy court records. PACER provides online access to the docket and most of the documents filed in federal cases. Almost all federal cases are available on PACER, but it is the court that decides which documents will be made available to the public.

See Barbara Gray or TinaMarie in the J-School Research Center for assistance.

The Feds, like New York City and State, have a presence on the web; the Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator provides the name and address of the prison as well as procedures and practices for media interviews, and for sending mail and visiting inmates.

Don’t forget about Lexis Nexis Academic search feature Federal and State Cases

Additional Resources

All attorneys registered with the New York State Unified Court System are profiled here: attorney search

Martindale-Hubbell Lawyer Search

Asking the Right Questions on the Crime Beat

Fact-checking Your Reporting

“Fact-checking”(is)—a stage in the editorial process where someone attempts independent confirmation of every “fact” in an author’s manuscript before its publication—  Source:  Adventures in Fact-checking: Are You Completely Bald? by Richard Blow and Ari Posner, September 26, 1988

In the old days of print, fact-checking involved the collaborative efforts of the writer/reporter, an editor and a fact-checker; today’s journalist (and that includes you) is expected to be all of the above. Journalists are keenly aware that in the age of the Internet, and the 24-hour news cycle, the thing that sells, and that will have readers returning, is credibility; the onus of responsibility rests with the writer, and he or she is expected to produce stories with facts that are accurate, supported by documentary evidence and with sources of the highest authority.

While there is no formula for fact-checking, I suggest you employ the same strategy you’ve used when doing a news or background search:  have a plan.    


As you gather the sources that support the facts of your story, keep a thorough record of all your research – photographs, transcripts, videos, tweets, articles from your clip search, email addresses, phoners, web contact. etc.; you will save considerable time when you begin to fact-check your piece, and there’s always the chance that you may need to turn over your files to legal counsel.

(At TIME magazine, reporters’ files (called ‘carbons’) are kept for 13 months post production)

What Should You Fact-check?

  • Titles
  • Place and People Names
  • Quotations
  • Birthdates/ages (common errors)
  • Distance
  • Statistics
  • Historical Facts
  • Dates (common errors)
  • References to Time or Weather
  • Superlatives (caution)
  • Physical Descriptions
  • Captions
  • Gender (names can mislead)

What types of sources should you use when fact-checking your reporting?

  • Make every effort to use primary sources for fact-checking.  If your source brings  particular bias, and he or she is a crucial element in the telling of this story, it’s incumbent on you to make your readers aware of this.  Reporters covering the war in Syria and in Iraq are confronted daily with the reality that they will be getting information from sources with clear partisan agenda. 
  • When relying on secondary sources, be sure that your sources are credible, well-respected and unbiased.
  • Take full advantage of the database resources of the J-School’s Research Center, and don’t forget about the valuable collections available from your public library   .

Types of Primary Sources (Original Documents)

Primary sources provide first hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation.  They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the event or conditions being documented.

  • Speeches
  • Autobiographies
  • Diaries
  • E-mail
  • YouTube videos
  • Interviews
  • Letters
  • DNA evidence
  • Minutes of a community board meeting
  • Documentary film footage
  • Official records (birth certificates, marriage licenses)
  • Photographs
  • Tweets
  • Buildings
  • Works of Art, Drama
  • Government Documents


A Selection of Primary Reference Sources: 

NYC’s Independent Budget Office

if you are looking for recent figures on the City’s cost of housing the homeless, or if education is your beat and you’re trying to find figures on spending by school district  then the Independent Budget Office ought to be the a source you immediately check out.   City of New York Publicly-funded agency.  Provides reviews of the NYC’s budget; issues reports, economic forecasts and analyses of public policy issues. Have a look at the recent releases.

The Mayor’s Management Report

The Mayor’s Managemet Report provides a report of the first full year of data concerning our Mayor’s stewardship of the City’s residents ad resources

Checkbook NYC

Checkbook NYC is a solid primary source for following the City’s day-to-day spending by way of an online transparency tool.  New Yorkers and others now have access to the current financial condition of the City; one can now find the names of the City’s prime vendors, contract amounts and amount spent by the city for contracted work on taxpayer-funded projects. 

Bronx Borough President’s Office

The office of the Bronx Borough President is as close as you are going to get to the workings of Bronx city government.   

Quinnipiac University Poll

The Quinnipiac University Poll is a solid polling resource for presidential and state party politics  

The C.I.A.World Factbook

the C.I.A. World Factbook is your portal to basic information about foreign countries – politics and government, population and social statistics, land, religious and economic data.  Published by the U.S. government; it’s a solid primary source and a must have on any virtual library shelf.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics should be your first source when looking for national economic data – employment and earnings, productivity, consumer price index, unemployment rate.


Secondary Sources provide interpretation and analysis of primary sources; e.g.  Reviews of music, art or literature, directories, LexisNexis database searches for magazine or newspaper articles about events and people, political commentary, editorials, encyclopedias…

A Selection of Secondary Sources

NYCEconomic Development Corporation

NYC’s Economic Development Corporation produces monthly economic snapshots, and current migration and immigration data, have a look at the snapshots of industries that are driving the economy of New York City  (use the ‘search’ box).  Monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.  Courtesy of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania. 

Facts on File News Services

Facts on File is a premier source for verifying dates, times, election results, natural disasters, wars, international and domestic news events.  News reports start in 1940 and continue today

Columbia Gazetteer of the World  

The Columbia Gazetteer is a basic geographic reference tool which should populate every reference shelf.  When you are trying to verify the spelling of cities and towns and oceans and villages, get comfortable with the gazetteer; added bonus is found in the good descriptions of each location – economy, principal crops…

Verifying Information Found in Social Media Networks

We can’t close out our time together without addressing the increasing use of social media by globally established publishers. journalists, activists of all stripes and John and Jane Q. Witness to share breaking and other news.

As journalists, you must apply the same degree of skepticism when contemplating a decision to use UGC (user generated content) to amplify or confirm a fact in your story; performing due diligence – by confirming its originality, identifying the source, that is, who made it, determining the date the video was created, and ascertaining where the video was taken – are all requisite best practices.

Contacting the original owner and uploader of this video becomes an imperative and the goal; it’s necessary to find its origin in order to get permission of use the video

Much has been written about the pitfalls that journalists must avoid when fact-checking social media content.  I recommend The Verification Handbook and in particular chapter 3, Verifying User-Generated Content.

Storify offers a number of case studies which walk you through the process of finding and contacting video uploaders, and also recognizing fake content; take a moment to review them.

This particular example by Storify finding video uploads, addresses the step-by-step fact-checking process required if you decide to use (in this case ) a YouTube video in your story.

Let’s fact-check this YouTube video NYC Protest


Why Bother?

“It’s much better to look for documentary evidence than it is to accept some whispered tale that somebody has put in your ear.”  – Brooks Jackson, director,


Published errors take away from the credibility of the journalist, and tarnishes the character and reputation of the publisher; being willing to admit and correct mistakes will only improve a publication’s stature.

Publishers today provide error report forms on their websites, and have encouraged readers to identify and submit corrections.

Slate’s Mistakes

NYTimes Corrections

Washington Post Corrections