The following notes are taken from demos to BBC news journalists, delivered in June/July 2008.
These notes are for journalists who are concerned about the rising tide of research tools available online, but who have neither the time nor inclination to wet their ankles.
There are countless helpful sites out there for all sorts of tasks, but here are a handful of essentials which you will be able to make practical use of right now.
yoname allows you to search across several social networking sites simultaneously, saving you valuable time in the process. Bear in mind though – if you’re searching by email address, the subject will be emailed telling them someone is looking for them via the site.
pipl is a people-search tool which deep-searches the entire web. The results are aggregated into directories (including results from 192.com), social networks, web pages, publications and news articles. Remember to put ‘GB’ in the Country code box – and ignore the City and State boxes, which are aimed at US users.
The most thorough people finder I’ve found yet is 123people. It’s a great place to find email addresses, Instant Messaging accounts, and the tag cloud feature can help you tease out relationships between your subject and their contacts. Another major advantage with 123people is you can cross-reference other terms with your name (so if your subject lives in Oxford, include it to refine your search).
A word of caution though – tread warily with some online people-finders. There is a hybrid people-searcher/wiki site called spock which allows people to create profiles for anyone. The potential for hoaxing (and the questionable ethics) surrounding this site make it something to be wary of.
Web aggregators (like Netvibes, and iGoogle) are a great way to create a one-stop shop for all your news feeds, blogs, social networking, video sources etc. But they take time and effort to set up, not to mention knowledge of what already exists out there, to get the best out of them.
As an alternative, try Addictomatic. It’s a hybrid system, incorporating search and providing aggregated results. It lets you search across the web, returning content in different modules (news sources, twitter, flickr, video sources etc.). It’s interactive only in so far as you can add or delete from a set menu of modules, but it doesn’t require any registration. It’s a good stepping stone between basic web search and fully aggregated web content.
There’s no shortage of news aggregators out there (whether web-based or platform-based), and each have their own peculiar strengths and weaknesses.
The only issue for me is to use a combination of ‘pull’ and ‘push’ systems – to help you both search for, and browse for news.
‘Pull’ aggregators allow you to search for and then set up alerts for individual news services (via RSS feeds). The system then draws in news from these sources when it breaks, and presents everything on the one page. Bloglines (requires a login) contains all the usual national media sources, in addition to regional titles, and amateur content. It also contains a quick and dirty guide to the reliability (or rather popularity) of sources, in so far as you can see how many other people already subscribe.
‘Push’ aggregators allow you to browse through breaking news by subject area (established editorially) – so can provide a serendipitous take on the news, guiding you to stories and sources you might otherwise miss if you rely on looking for subjects and sources you already know exist. Newsnow is a great place to browse for news by subject area, which also allows you to search by keyword (albeit only one keyword – if you want to search using more, you will have to subscribe).
Current awareness in Video
Although news is often available on Youtube and blinkx, I’ve found Truveo (mind the smut) is probably the best in this area – the content comes from reliable (albeit some fairly lowbrow) sources, and their official syndicates. Use the search coding here to browse for breaking broadcast news about UK issues. Be warned, indexing and content issues mean it’s not great for actually searching for news.
Advanced Google Search
We’re all used to simple-searching Google, and for the most part it works well. But Google Advanced (see option to right of search bar) provides many ways to improve your searching. There are a range of functions and filters you can use to tighten up your results – some of them I have used countless times to help journalists find contributors.
The domain filter
If you are after a UK-based academic in a particular field, include key words from their field, a word connecting them to their profession (professor, expert or department work best), and filter by the domain .ac.uk (site:.ac.uk) Try using an advanced Google search. You can also use a domain guide to refine your search for academic experts out-with the UK.
If you are after NGOs, NIMBY-type groups, small charities, drop-ins, or local action-groups of any kind, type in your keywords (or regional area) then filter by the domain .org.uk. (site:.org.uk). Again, Google advanced can help.
The Title filter
If you are after backgrounders and analysis on an issue, it’s a good idea to put in your search terms, then include one of the following terms within the intitle: filter: depth, comment, analysis, Q&A, brief, or background. Try filtering your Google results by title.
The Filetype filter
For finding statistics, search only within filetype:xls – for Excel results.
For government and NGO material, search only within filetype:pdf – for PDFs.
For finding experts, search only within filetype:.ppt – for Powerpoint results.
The language filter
If you are searching for foreign contributors or subjects but want to avoid having to wade through non-English results, set the language filter to English. (you need to go into Advanced to choose your language).
The link function
If you want to check the readership of a site (which can sometimes lead to an understanding of it’s partisanship) try searching for the url using the command link:. Try the link function.