Help with hiring someone to collect data from afar
November 24, 2011 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I need about ten years of weekly advertisements placed in the classifieds section of an upstate, popular alternative newspaper. I've called around, and I cannot get the newspapers through inter library loan at my university. I cannot get the ads directly from the newspaper either, and I've exhausted every possible channel to do so. I think I am going to have to hire someone off of Craigslist, but I've never done this before, and would like some advice so that I ensure I get this to me in the most efficient format, at the lowest possible cost, without errors. I could use some advice on all aspects of the logistics of planning this, from start to finish. The project is important, and I have attention deficit disorder predominantly inattentive, which I think is why I've simultaneously procrastinating and over thinking this. I have a lot of questions, as you'll see.

Here's the goal: get me scanned copies of ten years worth of weekly classified advertisements for an alternative newspaper upstate, far away from me. The scans must be legible as I will need to (1) count the number of advertisements by category and (2) also calculate the size of the ads to estimate their prices and (3) be able to see the names of the company placing the advertisement.

What I need help on: Technology, hiring, compensation, worker selection, stuff like that.

Format: I do not know what I prefer. I know that ultimately I will be using whatever I get to count the ads and input them into a spreadsheet. So I think digital copies of the scans is fine. I don't need physical copies, in other words.

Delivery: Email is fine. Dropbox is even better.

Technology: I don't know what kind of technology I should be asking the worker to use. I was wondering if they could just take hi-res digital photos of each page, though. That way, I could zoom in if necessary. But how large would that ultimately get? And is that the most cost-effective way to go?

Worker: I'm not really sure what to look for. I need someone who will work independently, preferably rapidly. I was thinking of a compensation structure that would lead to that, but then I just started to think I was over thinking the whole thing. There is a local university (several actually) in the city where this is located, so I could always hire a local student. But I have very few contacts in the area, and I will need this person to be able to work with the libraries and get the materials on their own. Not sure who I am looking for or how to find them, or what it would look like to get a bad apple - hence the question, sort of.

Where to find them: Do I hire them on Craigslist? If so, what section of Craigslist do I make the post? And can you point me to some examples? Is there a better way? I have two contacts I trust in the area, but I'm not sure how easily I can use them to do anything. They cannot themselves do this, but maybe they could help coordinate potentially.

Compensation: What's the cost of this ultimately? I do not know how large the scans are going to be because I have never seen a copy of this newspaper's classifieds going back this far. Do I need to have compensation figured out before I post the ad? I figure I do.

Sorry for so many questions - any advice you can help me with on this is much appreciated though.
posted by scunning to Work & Money (17 answers total)
You mentioned that the papers aren't available through interlibrary loan, but if it's physically available at the public library where the paper was published, it's likely to be on microfilm. The researcher you hire can either print pages or scan-and-e-mail for a nominal per-page fee. I work with a machine that makes TIFF files. Note the "nominal" refers to what the library will charge your agent, not what that person will charge you for their time. Someone who does research, a non-student, could charge $75 an hour. Students, especially library students or interns, might be a good bet. (the college there might also have that paper.) you might try freelance writers or part-time reporters or library staff. If a college there has a library school, you might try contacting a department head there, or the English department, to recommend a student interested in the job.
posted by Occula at 6:51 PM on November 24, 2011

Best answer: Put an ad on the jobs section of this site! Lotta library workers and grad students and other types of people on Metafilter who would help you out I bet.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:08 PM on November 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Occula - I have two libraries that have it. A public library has physical hard copies laying around and that was what I was thinking for the photographs. (Just snappin pages at a time for uploading to me. Is that a bad idea?). But it is missing maybe a third to forty percent of the entire set of issues.

The other library has all issues (approximately 500) on microfilm. But it's like 75 cents per printing on microfilm, and I don't know yet whether a single page of microfilm has a lot of the ads in question or just a small portion.

The challenge is all the logistics for me. I really wish I could go to both libraries, see what I'm looking at, and then brainstorm. But honestly I can't fly there to do this. I need a solution that's cost effective, fast, reliable. That's where I keep getting frozen with indecision. I'm worried I'm going to spend money (I frankly don't really have right now) and get screwed.

I like the idea of mefi jobs though. I've never done that. I like that idea a lot actually. If I do that, This thread may be a moot point as presumably I could just hire someone, and then work out the details.
posted by scunning at 7:40 PM on November 24, 2011

Do you really need the scans or do you need the data? If you need the type and number of advetisers, why not call the alt-weekly and see what ad sales records have been kept?
posted by Ideefixe at 7:45 PM on November 24, 2011

You should keep you mind open to the possibility that this project is impossible or prohibitively expensive when done in the way you're envisioning. This happens. From what you've said, it sounds like the best answer by far is to pay for microfilm copies. That is, as Ideefixe pointed out, you need the actual text of the ads instead of just statistics about the ads.
posted by facetious at 8:05 PM on November 24, 2011

nthing "contact a professor in the appropriate academic department in a local university". They will find someone to do the work and suggest how much such RA work would be paid.
posted by jrochest at 8:13 PM on November 24, 2011

I kind of echo what facetious said. I dunno, it is a lot of pages over a lot of time. I work at a daily paper and we get this kind of request from time to time. It's the kind of project we didn't have time or staff to devote to even before my department was gutted, sadly. I would pretty much tell a caller what I told you.

I don't think the photo idea is a bad one, but if it's a tabloid style and you need to be able to read the text, it might take a few snaps per page and you might lose your mind trying to sort it out. But of course the film might need several scans per page too, especially the older issues. I wager the paper has ensmallened within the last few years.
posted by Occula at 9:50 PM on November 24, 2011

Can you pay a student in each location $20 or something to go in, take a look at what the library has, and report to you? E.g. number of microfilm pages, size of scans, other relevant info. Maybe a sample page copied or scanned or snapped. In fact, a librarian in each place should be able to give you this information for free, but if you have trouble getting it, an initial approach by a hireling should work. You could then ask that person for a quote to do the rest of the work.

Finally, if you are looking for stats on advertisers, or similar, I would suggest that a sample of the full 10 years would be the way to go. Maybe one month (not December, due to possible holiday skewing) per year if you are comparing years to each other, or one year at the start and one at the end of the decade, if you are looking for changes. You could also get one year's worth of full ads, and see if one random month of that year is relatively representative, before deciding whether one month for each year is sufficient.
posted by lollusc at 1:01 AM on November 25, 2011

It might be fruitful to look at the discussions in the forums at DIY Book Scanner. Since newspapers can fold out flat, a simple frame to hold a digital camera & a couple of flood lights should give you quality images to work with.

If a library has a set of microfilms, is copying the whole set feasible? Then you could pay someone locally to go through the microfilm copies and collate this data.
posted by pharm at 2:17 AM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

A lot of papers have back issues available online, assuming you don't need more than, say, ten years ago at a maximum; if possible, I really think this is the way you should do this. Prints off of microfilm WILL make you crazy: every microfilm reader I've ever seen prints on standard 8-1/2" by 11" paper, so for readable copies you're talking at least 4-6 prints per newspaper page.

No newspaper is going to keep tons of back issues on hand, nor is a library: the sheer ever-increasing volume of them precludes that, so inter-library loans of actual newspapers really isn't feasible. Many newspapers keep bound archive books with one actual copy of each issue, but they also HATE to let outsiders near them, simply because people have a nasty tendancy to rip out pages --- and no, they certainly will NOT let you take those archive books somewhere convienent for scanning or photography!

Re ideefixe and calling them for sales data: considering how cutthroat/competitive newspapers are these days, this will at best get you a solid 'No.' More likely, it'll get you what I just got when I ran the idea past a coworker at a chain of local weeklies: hysterical laughter and a "are they crazy?!? Not gonna happen!" Re lollusc, and just checking one representative month: the problem here is that there really ISN'T one representative month: October/November are often best for ad sales, and January/February/March usually worst, but there's also massive variation caused by the last couple years' economic downturn.

tl;dr: your best bet (both for project feasibility and for cost) is to check the newspaper's website for scans or pdfs of back issues.
posted by easily confused at 4:02 AM on November 25, 2011

Response by poster: Idefixee - in the first post I drafted which was even longer and more rambling, I mentioned the point that you ask about. For the last 6-8 months I've been in talks with the company, almost got the data, and it all then just stopped. Can't Get the data directly, so it looks like I have to hand collect it.
posted by scunning at 7:16 AM on November 25, 2011

Response by poster: I checked online once but i should do it one more time to be sure. But when I checked, this alt weekly didn't seem to keep its classifieds back far.

Thanks for the mention about the book scanning forum. That will help me with the data collection/technology questions more than anyone else I could ask.
posted by scunning at 7:21 AM on November 25, 2011

I hire a lot of RAs.

Have very explicit step-by-step instructions -- don't assume anything. TELL THEM what resolution you want the photos, for example.

Have them do 10%, review their work, and then continue with any adjustments that need to be made.

You need to decide if you want to pay per hour or for work completed. There are pros and cons for both ways.
posted by k8t at 8:04 AM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

You've probably done this already, but, since microfilm exists, it would be worthwhile to look into the possibility of obtaining the microfilm rolls via interlibrary loan. If you're willing to throw some money at it, or look at them only inside the library, it might be doable. Talk to the head of ILL at your academic library.

Also, what facetious said.
posted by box at 8:21 AM on November 25, 2011

Since you are going to input the data into a spreadsheet anyway. Could you hire the person to just input the data right at the library. It would save the page fee and might be the most efficient way to go. I might be missing a step, but if they are going to be looking at the pages and then you are going to be looking at the pages, that's double the workload. It would be great to cut that in half and have them input is however you need.
posted by Vaike at 8:46 AM on November 25, 2011

Yeah, for whatever reason, microfilm is often substantially easier to borrow through ILL than paper copies of things. The ILL department should be able to look at the policy directory information for that one holding library to see if they lend microfilm at all, and they may be able to give you the contact information if it's not possible. If you are working through an academic ILL department, it may be easier to secure a loan than a public library, and paying the shipping costs of UPS/Fed-EX for the return/both ways as well as a loan fee and supplying a promise to only use them in house may help. If nothing else, contacting them should allow you to know how complete their set really is, and how many rolls it's made up of, which should help work out a time frame for going through them. Few schools or libraries will lend out more than 4-5 rolls at a time, for starters.

If you can't do that, it might be cheaper to work with a set of student workers/library researchers to determine a rubric of sizes and categories, so that they would do much of the actual tallying (broken down into as much data as you would need, of course-- I'm imagining a really large google spreadsheet so you could keep track, and check their work) so that they could then only print out say really interesting/difficult ads, and maybe 10-15% of the total ones per month. Maybe have them copy everything to begin with, to set up the rubric, and then gradually let them work more independently? Good luck, and maybe you can update us on how your project goes!
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:45 AM on November 25, 2011

Not sure if you are still reading but you might also see if anyone at the alt newspaper classifieds department is interested in picking up some extra cash by completing this project. They would understand their organization of the paper better than most and would have access to old copies easily. Easy to find out by calling their classifieds number or email once you have a budget and just start talking to whoever answers.

If not, I work at a university with a student researcher and they often have their hours cut over the holidays. If you can let give them a short sample soon, and you approve it, this would be a great opp for a student worker. Might even ask the libraries involved if they have student workers as they would be very familiar with the equipment and such. Best of luck!
posted by Kitty Cornered at 5:15 PM on November 26, 2011

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