To be a successful freelancer, using the Internet smartly and wisely is not just an option, it’s a necessity. But always search with the skepticism of a journalist.
Although the Internet has resulted in some inaccurate reporting, like fake Iraqi prisoner photos, it can also help reporters break stories or get more information about breaking news.
David Raziq, investigative producer at KHOU-TV Houston, used the Internet to follow up on tips about Ford Explorers crashing after their Firestone tires fell apart. Raziq, who was the producer for the investigation, began following leads to Venezuelan newspapers, where he used a translation Web site to get a sense of what was being reported there. Raziq then turned to photojournalist Chris Henao, who spoke fluent Spanish, to fill in the rest and do phone interviews. As a result of the research, the investigative team — which also included reporter Anna Werner — brought about a recall of 6.5 million potentially defective tires at a cost of more than $300 million.
“We attempted to use the Internet to access public databases, checking through actions, other possible research avenues,” said Raziq about the investigation that began in December 1999. “A lot of them meet dead ends, but it’s a necessary process. When we got the tip on the Ford Explorers, the first thing we did was go to the Internet.
“It’s a great research tool,” Raziq said. “The most important thing people can do is not assume and to double check everything and to try and make the Web search as inclusive as possible.”
To do this, Raziq suggested searching with quotations, looking for specific names that account for middle names, and taking a class from an expert or becoming familiar with basic Web page design to do more exhaustive research.
One such authoritative source is Columbia Professor of Journalism Sreenath Sreenivasan. Sreenivasan specializes in new media and offers tips through his Web site www.sreetips.com. In addition to his weekly Internet column for the Poynter Institute and an e-newsletter anyone can sign up to receive, Sreenivasan also works as WABC-TV’s “Tech Guru” on Thursday and Saturday mornings in the New York City area. His walking encyclopedia of knowledge about Google and other Internet sites is a great resource for freelancers.
Another great Web site, Who is John Doe, is run by award-winning investigative reporter Duff Wilson. Wilson, who worked for the Seattle Times for many years and recently accepted a sports investigation position with The New York Times, has put together tips to finding almost anything about someone at www.reporter.org/desktop/tips/johndoe.htm.
Another good research site for journalists is www.inserttexthere.com. This one comes from Michelle Nicolosi, a Seattle-based freelance journalist. The site contains media links and more.
Mainstays like Google, Yahoo! and MapQuest have become a part of our daily lives. While there are countless resources on the Internet, here are a few that may help you in your research:
* To find someone type: Person’s name @ email in the Google search engine. You sometimes can get an e-mail address with this search.
* To find when someone was born, married, or died: www.vitalchek.com
* Find out if someone was involved in a federal lawsuit, bankruptcy, divorce, probate, criminal or traffic violations: pacer.psc.uscourts.gov
* Search for professional licenses and other state records: www.searchsystems.net
* Find someone who works for a charity or nonprofit: www.guidestar.com
* Comparing Countries — get data on various nations by allowing you to compare countries across 75 categories: www.your-nation.com
* A reference site: www.refdesk.com. The New York Times quoted U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell saying this is his favorite Web site.
* Get a Merriam-Webster Dictionary: www.m-w.com
* Need a detailed map? plasma.nationalgeographic.com/mapmachine/
* For instant translation of Arabic sites to English go to english.ajeeb.com
or tarjim.ajeeb.com/ajeeb/default.asp?lang=1. Translation is free, but you must register.
* If you are looking for statistics, here is a great place to start. It provides links to data about all sorts of topics (business to education to sports): www.statistics.com
* Consumer World is a free guide to more than 2,000 handy consumer resources: www.consumerworld.org
* Need to know how something works?www.howstuffworks.com