Links

Link of the Week: A Pronouncing Vocabulary

Time now for another resource on pronunciation, the news announcer’s abiding obsession.

For this one, you have to set your wayback machine to 1857, the publication date of Elias Longley’s Pronouncing Vocabulary of Geographical and Personal Names, available (in the public domain) through Google Books. As the name suggests, this 205 page work contains extensive lists of pronunciations for place names, then personal names, then a shorter catalog of scriptural names. Because of its long-ago publication date, the book–especially the personal names part–is useful mainly for names of note at or prior to the mid-nineteenth century. It also uses an obsolete typographic phonography system (lots of funny Greek-looking characters) that is a little hard to decipher at first, but that is well-explained in the introduction and in a summary table immediately following.

For all its limitations, I find Longley’s Pronouncing Vocabulary a handy resource for names and places that often appear without pronunciations in dictionaries and encyclopedias, or without authority in many of the online sources I’ll be mentioning in future entries.

Link of the Week: Google Translate

One of Google’s many boons to foreign reporting has been its Google Translate service. There are several ways to access it. Google searches, for example, include a “Translate” link for any website that’s detected as being in a foreign language. And if you use Google Toolbar in your browser, it will put a ‘Translate’ control bar at the top of any page you visit that’s detected as being in a foreign language (including some that aren’t really foreign).

If neither of those cases apply to you, you can just go to the Google Translate page and type the URL of the foreign language website into the text box. Pick the source language (or let Google figure it out automagically) and your language, and POW, you have what’s usually a pretty good machine translation of the material. You can also type free-form text into the box (‘Where is the bathroom?’) and Google will translate that (‘Waar is de badkamer?’), adding a handy ‘Listen’ button so you can hear the pronunciation.

All this convenience and power comes with one big red-flag caution: It’s still a machine translation, which means it works well on simple, straightforward phrases, but is terrible at translating slang, idiom, and cultural context.

In the journalistic context, that means you can use Google Translate (or other machine translators) to get the gist of a foreign-language article and decide whether to pursue it further. But if you want to use any facts or quotes, machine translation isn’t good enough. For that, you’ll still (as of this writing) need to find a real, live fluent speaker of the language to translate it for you.

Link of the Week: U.S. House Floor Proceedings

One thing we do fairly often at Sirius XM OutQ News is watch (and record) floor video from the U.S. House of Representatives. Because that’s being done while we write, edit, take bathroom breaks, etc., it often happens that we’ll miss some detail. Even if you’re watching closely, action moves so quickly in the House that it’s common for something to fly by too fast to note.

This page on the U.S. House website is the handy fix for that. It includes one week’s worth of every single official action of the House (votes, introductions of bills and amendments, referrals to committee, and so on), logged in near-real time. It can be a real life-saver if you need to know the yeas and nays on some bill or amendment, including the roll call.

Link of the Week: Measuring Worth

I now unveil one of my all-time favorite sites. It’s something I only use occasionally in my current deadline news job. But I used to use it all the time when I made historical documentaries. And you could get lost for hours just playing with numbers on the site.

So with that buildup, what is it?

Measuring Worth is the latest incarnation of an online calculator run by two University of Illinois economics professors. The site lets you put in a currency amount from any year back to 1774, and convert that to the value in any other year. Most commonly, you’d use it to figure out, for example, what $30 in 1910 is worth today. The answer, of course, isn’t as simple as $710. That’s just the figure calculated using the Consumer Price Index. But the authors’ basic calculator gives you five other measures (GDP deflator, comparative payment for unskilled labor, etc.) which generate a figure as high as $13,200 (for relative share of GDP). It can also handle various foreign currencies and various other ways of calculating relative value.

So, unfortunately, while Measuring Worth a great tool, there’s a learning curve (handy essays included) to figuring out what all the numbers mean and which is appropriate for your purpose. But if you need to calculate the historical Value of a Dollar (the site’s original name), this is the tool for the job.

Link of the Week: Defamation Law

This page on the ExpertLaw website provides a handy overview of U.S. law on defamation, libel and slander. It includes short sections defining defamation, describing the legal defenses available (including most especially the ‘actual malice’ defense relating to public figures), and an explanation of why it’s not always a good idea to file a defamation suit. The material is brief, not thorough, but accurate so far as I know.

Link of the Week: AP Broadcast Handbook

This is a first for Link of the Week: a link to the dead-tree version of a book you should buy. About one-third of the Associated Press Broadcast Handbook is an extremely concise and well-written guide to broadcast newswriting (kind of like this blog–ahem–but organized into a logical sequence instead of blasted all over the map in no particular order). The second part is a wide ranging style guide similar to the AP Stylebook for print. It contains hundreds of dictionary-style entries that prescribe the right way to refer to well-known companies and groups on second reference, what to call minority and handicapped people, and lots of other writing style questions. Many newsrooms rely on the handbook as the authority on “house style” questions that have not already been settled internally.

Link of the Week: FiveThirtyEight.com

In the home stretch to Election Day, here’s my new favorite-favorite-favorite poll analysis web site: FiveThirtyEight.com. There are many such sites now, like Electoral-Vote.com, Pollster.com and CNN’s Electoral Map page.

But FiveThirtyEight.com (a reference to the total membership of the Electoral College) is amazing. It’s the work of a professional baseball statistician (quite famous in that world) named Nate Silver. Silver doesn’t just compile all the state-by-state presidential polls, counting each state as red, blue or tied — as most of the other sites do in one form or another. Instead, he runs all the polls through an incredibly sophisticated spreadsheet that weighs the reliability and recency of the poll, demographic cross-tabs, regional voting patterns, and many other factors, to create a big probability matrix that spits out both the likely electoral vote if the election were held today, and the likely outcome on November 4th. Details are on the site’s FAQ.

The intricacy of his system is mind-blowing, and more than a little intimidating. But Silver’s work has a stellar reputation for reliability and perspicacity in the baseball statistics industry, which he has revolutionized more-or-less single-handedly. And although he is an Obama supporter, Silver’s observations about polling, statistical massage and campaign strategy are extremely interesting, useful (for journalists) and trenchant. A highly, highly recommended site.

Link of the Week: VOA Pronunciation Guide

The Voice of America maintains a fairly extensive pronunciation guide for foreign names, places and terms. It’s far from totally comprehensive, but it’s an excellent place to start… not least because it includes audio files demonstrating the correct pronunciation, and not just written approximations.

Link of the Week: British Isles-Common Confusions

England, British Isles, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, Scotland… what is what, over there, off the coast of France, anyway?

Americans like me sometimes have a hard time sorting out what proper name applies to which geographical entity. This brief web page explains it all clearly and concisely, with maps.

Incidentally, those five names at the start of this entry all refer to distinct, but in some cases overlapping, entities.

Link of the Week: USA Today Election Guide

Here’s one appropriate to the season:

USA Today maintains an excellent, up-to-date, state-by-state guide to national and state level races, including candidates for Congress and state legislatures. It includes all official candidates (even minor parties) with their contact information and background briefings, and it lists major dates on the states’ electoral calendars. It would be the perfect one-stop-shop, if only it denoted who’s an incumbent.

Link of the Week: OpenCongress.org

Any time you need to track the status of a particular bill as it moves through the U.S. Congress, there’s OpenCongress.

From the ‘About’ section:

OpenCongress brings together official government data with news coverage, blog posts, comments, and more to give you the real story behind what’s happening in Congress. Small groups of political insiders and lobbyists already know what’s really going on in Congress. We think everyone should be an insider.

OpenCongress is a free, open-source, non-profit, and non-partisan web resource with a mission to make Congress more transparent and to encourage civic engagement. OpenCongress is a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation.

One especially handy feature is that the site offers RSS feeds not only of a bill’s status, but also related news and blog coverage. I have feeds set up for all the sexual orientation-related bills working their way through Congress, since that’s what I cover. OpenCongress is a very good way to make sure you don’t miss any action on a bill of interest… especially if it’s a bill that does not get a lot of media coverage.

Link of the Week: Zoominfo.com

In the last Link of the Week, I described a few tips for hunting people down using the Swiss Army Knife of search engines, Google. This week, I want to mention a people-finder site that is more of a precision tool for the same job: Zoominfo.com.

The Zoominfo search engine is specifically optimized for extracting the names of people and companies, and attempting to thread all that information together to produce ad hoc sort of résumés for the individuals in its database. Zoominfo lets you search for names, companies, or jobs — and only those three things. You can refine your search by location, company name, and a few other parameters. In other words, it’s a good specialty tool for find people who have at least some business presence on the web.

Zoominfo’s system is far from perfect: Sometimes single individuals have several different entries, as if they were different people; sometimes various individuals with the same or similar name get smushed together into a single (confusing) entry; and many people don’t appear at all — especially those who haven’t built up web identities in the business world. But for what it is, Zoominfo is another handy tool for your people-hunting toolbox. And more to come!

Link of the Week: Man- (or woman-) hunt via Google

One extremely common task for a reporter is tracking someone down, be they the subject of a story, a witness, an expert, a bad guy or whatever. I hardly need to say that the routine first stop in such a search is Google. But searching for individuals via Google is not entirely as simple as it seems, so this brief entry will offer a few tips.

Although I generally favor literal searches in Google (those “in quotes,” or with a hyphen-between-the-words) because they narrow down the results to the exact phrase you’re looking for, they don’t work as well with names. That’s because the name of a single individual can appear in many different formats: Tim Curran | Timothy Curran | Timothy A. Curran | Timothy Augustin Curran | Curran, Timothy | Curran, Timothy A. | Timmy Curran… etc., etc., etc.

For this reason, I usually do name searches on Google using just the first and last name, without surrounding quotes. For this purpose, Google has most other search engines beat, because it does the best job of interpreting the query as a name, and returning results that include not just the name in the query, but all the likely variants as well.

In the case of very common names (e.g. “Mark Johnson”), it may be necessary to put the name in quotes, and to try a few variants. It also might be helpful to throw in a related search term or two (a job title, or city, or anything else likely to turn up in a description) that narrow the results. But in such instances, it is often helpful to try more ‘people’ specific search engines, about which, more in the next Link of the Week.

Link of the Week: Google News sources

In my job, I’m a very heavy user of Google News. Sometimes I need to know whether a particular news source is among those feeding Google News, so that if it isn’t, I can visit/subscribe to that source separately.

Bad news: Google treats this information as proprietary. Good news: somebody else has compiled a list by analyzing a zillion Google news search results.

Newsknife, a New Zealand-based Google news ranking service, maintains what seems to be the most complete and up-to-date list of Google News sources. It’s not perfect–there’s a chance they’ve missed some, and any sources Google has dropped (or which have closed up shop) may still be on the list.

Another alternative, if you just want to confirm whether a known source is feeding Google News, is to do an advanced search on Google News, and fill in only the name of the ‘News Source.’ If there are any search results, Google (obviously) is using that source. If there are no results, then Google is probably not.

Link of the Week: Grammar, not gramma

With almost every entry on this blog I toss around grammar jargon like they’re working overtime at the factory. Most of it is stuff you probably thought you were done with when you graduated middle school. But, oh no, here it is again… and related to something you should know in order to make a living in newswriting. I bet you didn’t count on that when you flushed your mental cache around the time you graduated from college.

So for those who need a very condensed but readable guide to basic English grammar–technical terms and all–here’s what I use to double check my hazy recollections: Grammar Topics.

There are a thousand similar pages on the web. I happen to like this one (from the University of Victoria, British Columbia web site) because it’s very concise, correct (as far as I can tell), and from an academic (i.e. reasonably authoritative) source.