On Tuesday I talked with the staff of The Forum in Jennifer Hill's journalism class, about Internet research, finding reliable web sources, and fact checking. As I prepared, it occurred to me that all of these skills are the same techniques that all students should be using for their classes and for their personal information needs. Teachers and other grownups would benefit from researching like a journalist as well.
In class we went over a few main points:
- using websites dedicated to verifying (or debunking) political and social rumours, urban legends, chain mail claims, and the like (Snopes.com, PolitiFact.com, and others)
- Google is fine, but use the power tools (+, - and "") to get better quality searches. Consider that Google hits may be weighted in various ways, and go beyond the first few to find more solid sources. Use clues from blogs or Wikipedia to lead you to the information in quality sources. Double-check all facts by finding the same information in one or more quality source (CNN, US government website, primary source, etc).
- make sure that multiple sources are actually different sources (not just the same Wikipedia article in different websites). Do your sources all quote the same primary source? Find the primary source yourself.
- use the Paideia databases (SIRS and ProQuest) as a way to find sources (reports & articles, including AJC archives back to 2002) that have been through some sort of filtering process before being included. CQResearcher has comprehensive reports on current social and political issues
- questions to ask of any website in deciding whether it's reliable enough to stake your journalistic reputation (or grade) on its content
Links to all of the websites mentioned in the session are on PiLibrarian's Recommended Websites list, with the tag Journalism.