Getting Started, Staying Currentby Chip Berlet, Holly Sklar, and Abby Scher - Z Media Institute
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Do not assume that a topic new to you is new to the planet. Reading-in to a topic or field means becoming familiar with the historical and contemporary record (e.g., globalization is rooted in colonialism and neocolonialism; business nationalist rightwingers railed against transnational corporations and international institutions long before Pat Buchanan and WTO).
Whenever possible, go to primary sources. Don’t assume newspaper accounts (though important for keeping current and locating information and sources) accurately represent how you would summarize or characterize a report issued by a nonprofit or government agency or any other group. Do not assume newspaper quotes and statistics are always accurate.
Putting a story in context is important. The more you know the topic or field, the better will be your reporting, analysis and ability to probe new directions. There is an overabundance of descriptive and anecdotal writing and a scarcity of research-based analysis. Knowledge of history, factual information about current events, and informed analysis about trends empower people working to protect and strengthen democracy and human rights. But remember good research does not follow a straight line. You will probably find yourself jumping around and pulling together eclectic sources to get where you want to go.
The Internet allows us to research and communicate as never before. Stay alert for new and better online sources. Have high standards. The Internet is full of great information--and lots of misinformation. The Internet also makes it both easier and more necessary to stay up to date. You can’t grab a book off your shelf and cite out-of-date data. Researchers and reporters are expected to cite the latest available information (which typically ranges from just released today to quarterly reports to last year’s complete annual information to the latest available study on more specialized subjects).
Conduct a thorough literature search on-line and/or in a decent library. Consult specialized bibliographies, databases, transcription services, archives, libraries, Alternative Press Index, social science abstracts, “Who’s Who” references, etc. Don’t forget trade publications, professional or academic journals and annual reports. Check for Ph.D. dissertations available through inter-library loan. Some libraries offer access to full-text archives of articles from periodicals and newspapers as well as government document sections for print material. Through Powells, Amazon and other online booksellers you can find books that were long hard to find.
Wikipedia can be a great place to look for information, but since anyone can edit it at any time, consider it a starting point for further research.
Use good and efficient web search engines. Google is so ubiquitous that “to Google” has become part of the language. You can also try AlltheWeb, AltaVista, LookSmart, Yahoo, Hotbot, Inktomi, and Teoma. Many offer advanced search options. Some search engines collect data from other search engines: for example, Dogpile, Clusty, and Metacrawler.. To learn more about how search engines work, visit Search Engine Watch: <http://searchenginewatch.com>; although the most detailed information requires a membership.
Check out mainstream and alternative web sites for news, current affairs and policy issues, e.g., CNN, <http://www.commondreams.org>, <http://www.movingideas.org>, <http://www.oneworld.net>, <http://www.alternet.org>, <http://www.tompaine.com>, <http://www.inequality.org>, and Z Magazine/ZNET http://www.zmag.org/.
For news about the media, see <http://www.mediachannel.org>, as well as the web sites of media periodicals and organizations.
Newspapers, magazines, press releases, transcripts and other sources are archived and searchable online through many services including Questia, Factiva/Dow Jones, HighBeam (formerly Electric Library), Northern Light (now business-oriented), and IngentaConnect (formerly UnCover). Lexis-Nexis, the most extensive electronic archive for newspapers, magazines, company reports, etc., offers several flat-fee subscriptions and special searches, which some may find affordable. Newslibrary offers archival searches of over 700 periodicals.
In addition, most newspapers and magazines have online editions, many of which have searchable archives either on their own server or through one of the archive services listed above. The New York Times archive is now online for a fee. The Wall Street Journal only distributes its stories via its online archive, by online subscription, but this also gives you access to thousands of other publications in the Factiva Library. Public libraries sometimes maintain clipping files on local issues and companies.
Consider an electronic clipping service such as those provided by many Internet portals The Data Center (Oakland, CA) provides fee-based online searching services, and has extensive research files. The have a special web guide on how to do research: <http://www.datacenter.org/research/res_tool.htm>.
Specialized web sites for journalists, with lots of hotlinks, include:
Many research and activist organizations are linked through large web sites such as:
Applied Research Center
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