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Searching for News Online and on the Web: A Head to Head Comparison

Bruce Rosenstein

ONLINE, July 2001
Copyright © 2001 Information Today, Inc.


Nothing changes faster than the news. This makes news searching exciting, but adds difficulty. It also means that for optimum results you usually have to search both the Web and traditional online databases, such as LEXIS-NEXIS, Factiva, and Dialog.

The rallying cry once was, "Everything is on LEXIS-NEXIS." Now it's, "Everything is on the Web." Neither statement is true. You should search news sources using a combination of traditional online and Web sources unless there is a very good reason to use only one option. News is an umbrella term that can take in almost anything. Searching news online within a news organization involves deadlines, both for the searchers and the reporters/editors. That situation is not totally different from others, but can be very stressful. Since searching news sources is not restricted to news professionals, this framework for setting up the search will work in other environments.


How and where you are going to search starts with what you are trying to find, what you would like to accomplish, and where you think you might be able to find it. Drawing up a mental or written picture before you go online will help you figure out where you are going to go. You will also need to decide if cost is a factor in your search. If it is, traditional online may not be the best alternative. If time is a factor, however, consider online.

The accompanying table gives you a set of quick guidelines to follow when searching, and deciding when it is appropriate to go on a service like Dialog, Factiva, or LEXIS-NEXIS, and when it's best to use the Web.

The Web has spoiled people. It is no longer good enough to have yesterday's news. Although traditional online services have some of today's news online, for continual updating of stories you will almost certainly have to go to the Web. There are always exceptions. It's true that you can search for stories in many of today's newspapers online, but you can't get it for free.


But that points to another strength of online: the ability to search hundreds or thousands of files at the same time, and the ability to use sophisticated Boolean searching, including searching by specific fields, such as bylines.

It is certainly possible to find things by serendipity or fruitful browsing online, but again, do you want to spend money doing it? If it happens, fine, but training yourself to be open to serendipity on the Web is probably the better way to go.

You don't always know what you are getting on the Web, but generally with online you are getting a clean environment: you know what files you selected; you don't have to worry about viruses; and value-added indexing may have even been provided by the online service. If you come across a story on the Web that's from, say, the Washington Post, you have to check and make sure it really is from that publisher, and wasn't put on the Web by a third party.

Although it may not be a big issue to every searcher, if you don't want to have to look at ads on each screen, you have to be online.


A good way to find news sites is to use metasites like Editor & Publisher's media links, (http://emedia1.mediainfo.com/emedia/) or the links from the Newspaper Association of America (http://www.newspaperlinks.com/). You can search by state and by newspaper or broadcast source title. Another quick lookup can be found on The Drudge Report (http://www. drudgereport.com). For online, the important guides are Fulltext Sources Online, published by Information Today, and Net.Journal Directory, published by Hermograph Press.

It's also a good idea not to have too many preconceptions about what you will find on news sites. Even though most news sources charge for archives going back more than a day or a week, there is usually a good amount of free archival material. Examples are presidential campaign and election coverage from such newspapers as the New York Times or Washington Post, or extensive lists from Fortune (Fortune 500, Global Most Admired Companies, 100 Fastest Growing Companies) or Forbes (America's 500 Leading Companies, The Platinum 400, International 800). Besides being free, the advantage of the latter is that they are much easier to read on a Web site than on a traditional online database and you can interactively manipulate the data. Once on any news site, it pays to poke around to see what links are provided to free material.


Very often the best way to conduct a search, assuming you have the money, is to combine traditional online with free Net sources.

Generally, if you want to search among a number of sources, the best way to do it is with traditional online. Many sources can be searched at once using a variety of search strategies, and you can search using bylines, which is much more difficult to do on the Web.

The ability to recognize important information, and to do it quickly, is at the heart of this type of searching. You may have to sift through hundreds of stories in either type of searching, so getting to the heart of the matter, either by looking at the bibliographic information, name of the journalist, or date, can tell you that the story is relevant.

Sometimes knowing where to look involves knowing which publications are on which databases. For instance, you can only access full-text Wall Street Journal stories on Factiva or through its own Web site (www.wsj.com). Both require a subscription. If abstracts of the articles will serve your purposes, you can use either Dialog or LEXIS-NEXIS. Factiva is also the exclusive holder of Barron's and Dow Jones News Wire, as well. Geographic restrictions apply to the New York Times. You can only search the most recent 90 days of the full text on Dialog if you're in the U.S. and Canada. Other parts of the world have access to the full backfile, back to 1981. The Financial Times has its full text on LEXIS-NEXIS, but not on Factiva or Dialog. The full text is at its Web site (www.ft.com), but is time restricted.

Another thing to keep in mind is that when you are on the site of, say, the Washington Post, you can browse and follow links to other sites within the paper, and then decide if you want to pay for access to parts of it. If you access the paper via traditional online, you are generally only getting what you've searched for; there is little chance for serendipity by finding other items in the publications.


The changing nature of news sites is an example of the phenomenon of timeshifting. It used to be that a daily newspaper was a daily newspaper. Now it's more like a minute by minute paper. You can look at a story on a news site and see exactly what time it was posted. Magazines have undergone a similar change. Fortune may be bi-weekly on the newsstand, but the content changes daily on its Web site. Ditto for other weekly or bi-weekly news and business magazines: Newsweek, Time, U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and Business Week. None of them wants you to go to their site only once every week or two.

Newspapers and television stations used to compete only with similar media in their own market. Now, with the Web, the competition has become truly global. A small newspaper, with the right content, can compete for your attention just as a bigger paper can. And a television station can compete with newspapers in its own or other cities around the world.

One of the most popular ways of getting a grip on what is happening in the news each day is going to a popular portal site, such as Yahoo! (http://dailynews.yahoo.com/headlines/). At the very least, you can set up a quick set of bookmarks with some of the top news sites. Besides Yahoo!, you can include a short-list of sites like USA TODAY, the New York Times, Washington Post, Editor & Publisher media links, and CNN.


One of the most frustrating things about Web searching is how overwhelming it can be. Even the Editor & Publisher site has more links than most people can possibly deal with. That's why it's helpful, through bookmarks or a similar scheme, to have sites laid out that you can go to immediately. In some cases, you can find shorter, though still fairly comprehensive, links to news publications on sites like Ceoexpress (http://www.ceoexpress.com).

Many smaller newspapers are not on traditional online services, but are available on the Web. (For a lengthier discussion, see THE DOLLAR SIGN column in ONLINE, January/February 2001.) The disadvantage is that their archives may be unavailable or limited. The advantage is that something is better than nothing.

Complicated, targeted Boolean-type searching, on one source or across many different files is much better accomplished on traditional online than on the Web.

You can search recent news headlines from a variety of sources on the Web at Northern Light, which blends free Web newspaper sites with fee-based articles from traditional database producers. It is an advantage to experiment with possible terms on a wide-ranging search engine and see what comes up. You may then want to move onto a traditional online source, once you've clarified or added to your list of potential keywords.

Another angle to consider is anonymity: you may have to register at some Web news sources to be able to access more than just the home page. For many reasons, you may not want the paper to track who you are and what topics you searched.

Some newspapers, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA TODAY, allow you to search one or two days of the print edition online, so you can browse through the site as you would through the paper.

Also, online chats, now a ubiquitous feature of many news sites, are not available on traditional online. Some of them are archived and available for free on news sites.

News sites may have many links to affiliated commercial sites, but they generally don't have the kind of related links you would see on other Web sites.


If you are a librarian or researcher working directly with reporters, it really pays to communicate with them and listen for good suggestions. While working on a story about the 95-year-old new poet laureate of the United States, Stanley Kunitz, the reporter suggested checking the Cape Cod Times, where the poet lives part of the year. Although not available on traditional online sources, I found a number of good pieces archived for free on the Cape Cod Times Web site.

When asked to find the New York Times' and Washington Post's series of profiles on George W. Bush and Al Gore written before the election, you could go to LEXIS-NEXIS, but why bother when you can find them archived for free on the newspapers sites, complete with photos? You can either download the stories, or point the person who asked for it directly to the URLs. If the photographs are a requirement, you must go to the Web: traditional online lacks them.

The New York Times archives several weeks of stories from its Science Times section, which runs on Tuesdays. Why go online when you can get the story for free, in some cases with attractive and informative color graphics? Again, graphics are missing from traditional online.


And one angle that should not be overlooked is "'the desperation factor." If you are trying to find out information about something and you have no idea what it is, being able to "throw it in" to a search engine like Google for free is a lot faster and more cost-effective than logging on to LEXIS-NEXIS or Factiva and paying for your education. You can go online after you have found out something from the Web, assuming you still need to.

What about when you want to make sure you haven't missed anything? Here the approach of combining both traditional online and the Web is probably best. If you are being asked to see if a particular story has been published "anywhere," you want to cover the waterfront as much as possible. Searching on Northern Light and Google, and possibly some other Web sources, should yield some information right away. But you may need to then go to several traditional online sources. If it's really important, you may search LEXIS-NEXIS, the Wall Street Journal, and possibly some other exclusive files on Factiva (such as Reuters and Barron's), and newspapers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald, and the Detroit Free Press on Dialog and/or NewsLibrary. It may add extra time and expense to your search, but if "anywhere" means anywhere, you have no choice.


Reference and online searching is as much an art as a science. You can be looking at all the right files on LEXIS-NEXIS or the Web, and still miss the information you need. Can you come up with the right terms to communicate with the computer? If you are a librarian, have you completed a proper reference interview with your patron so you will get what they need, not necessarily what they say they want?

One thing is certain. Technology and the advances made by Web sites and traditional online searches mean only that people get more demanding day by day. Wait 24 hours for a story? You must be kidding! Why can't I get the full text of that television broadcast this morning? What do you mean, the photos aren't included?

And remember, online does not always mean omniscient. Just because you see it on LEXIS-NEXIS, Factiva, the Web, etc., doesn't mean it's necessarily true. Exercise discretion when searching, and think clearly about the results you have received.

What is the Best Source? The Web or Traditional Online?

Today's Material: Web
Photos and Graphics: Web
Retrospective Material: Online
Multi-file Searching: Online
Cost-Consciousness: Web
Boolean/Sophisticated Search Strategies: Online
Serendipity: Web
Browsing: Web
Sound and Video Files: Web
Clean Environment: Online
Absence of Advertising: Online
Links to Additional Material: Web

Principles of Online and Web News Searching:

Recommended News Web Sites:

U.S. Broadcast News:
ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/
CBS News: http://cbsnews.com
CNBC: http://www.cnbc.com
CNN: http://www.cnn.com
CNNfn: http://www.cnnfn.com/
C-SPAN: http://www.c-span.org
Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com
MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.com
Nightly Business Report: http://www.nbr.com
NPR Online: http://www.npr.org/
PBS: http://www.pbs.org/

U.S. Newspapers:
The Boston Globe: http://www.boston.com/globe/
Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/
The Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/
Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/
The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com
USA TODAY: http://www.usatoday.com
Wall Street Journal: http://www.djinteractive.com and http://www.wsj.com
The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/

News/Business Magazines on the Web:
BusinessWeek Online http://www.businessweek.com/
Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com
Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/
Fortune: http://www.fortune.com/fortune
Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/
Salon: http://www.salon.com/
Slate: http://www.slate.com/
Time: http://www.time.com/time
U.S. News Online: http://www.usnews.com

News Metasites:
American Journalism Review: http://ajr.newslink.org/news.html
Ceoexpress.com http://www.ceoexpress.com/
The Drudge Report: http://www.drudgereport.com
Editor & Publisher Media Links: http://emedia1.mediainfo.com/emedia/
JournalismNet.Com http://www.journalismnet.com
Newspaperlinks.com: http://www.newspaperlinks.com/ (The Newspaper Association of America)

Wire Services:
Associated Press: http://www.ap.org/
Bloomberg News: http://www.bloomberg.com/welcome.html
Reuters: http://www.reuters.com

Miscellaneous News-Related Sites:
The Freedom Forum: http://www.freedomforum.org/
The Nando Times: http://www.nandotimes.com/
The National Press Club Library Reporters' Internet Resources: http://npc.press.org/library/reporter.htm
Online Journalism Review (USC Annenberg): http://ojr.usc.edu/

U.K. Broadcast News:
BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/home/today/
Channel 4 (U.K.): http://www.channel4.co.uk/
ITN: http://www.itn.co.uk/
SkyNow: http://www.skynow.co.uk/home.jsp

U.K. Newspapers/Magazines:
The Daily Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk
The Economist: http://www.economist.com
The Financial Times: http://www.ft.com/
The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/
The Times of London: http://www.the-times.co.uk/news/pages/Times/frontpage.html?999

Canadian Broadcasting and Newspapers:
Canoe: http://www.canoe.ca/
CBC News: http://www.cbcnews.cbc.ca/
The Globe and Mail (Toronto): http://www.globeandmail.com/
The Montreal Gazette: http://www.montrealgazette.com/
National Post: http://www.nationalpost.com/
Ottawa Citizen: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/
The Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/
Vancouver Sun: http://www.vancouversun.com/

Search Engine/Portal News Sites:
Excite: http://news.excite.com/news/
Google: http://directory.google.com/Top/News/
Lycos: http://www.lycos.com/news/
Northern Light: http://www.northernlight.com/news.html
Yahoo!: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/headlines/

Online Sites for News:
Dialog: http://www.dialog.com/
Factiva: http://www.djinteractive.com
LEXIS-NEXIS: http://www.nexis.com/ and http://www.lexis-nexis.com/lncc/sources (for direct information on sources)
NewsLibrary: http://www.newslibrary.com

Bruce Rosenstein (brosenstein@usatoday.com) is a reference librarian for USA TODAY and an adjunct professor at Catholic University of America.

Comments? Email letters to the Editor at marydee@infotoday.com.

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