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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Photos and Graphics:||Web|
|Boolean/Sophisticated Search Strategies:||Online|
|Sound and Video Files:||Web|
|Absence of Advertising:||Online|
|Links to Additional Material:||Web|
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
U.S. News Online: http://www.usnews.com
American Journalism Review: http://ajr.newslink.org/news.html
The Drudge Report: http://www.drudgereport.com
Editor & Publisher Media Links: http://emedia1.mediainfo.com/emedia/
Newspaperlinks.com: http://www.newspaperlinks.com/ (The Newspaper Association of America)
Associated Press: http://www.ap.org/
Bloomberg News: http://www.bloomberg.com/welcome.html
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/
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:
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:
Northern Light: http://www.northernlight.com/news.html
Online Sites for News:
LEXIS-NEXIS: http://www.nexis.com/ and http://www.lexis-nexis.com/lncc/sources (for direct information on sources)
Bruce Rosenstein (email@example.com) is a reference librarian for USA TODAY and an adjunct professor at Catholic University of America.
Comments? Email letters to the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2001, Information Today, Inc. All rights reserved.