This document is a supplement to
Editing for Clear Communication
Copyright 1996-1999,
Thom Lieb


No portion may be reused without the author's permission.

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Further Reading:
Paul Grabowicz, "The Net: A Journalist's Ultimate Reference Guide," Online Journalism Review, 4 March 1999

Paul Grabowicz, "Finding Experts and Sources Online," Online Journalism Review, 3 February 1999

New York Times CyberTimes Navigator

"Searching Is My Business" by Dylan Tweney

Jon Katz, "Um, Hello?" Netizen, 18 Nov. 1996

Margot Williams, "It Takes More Than One Engine to Power a Web Search," The Washington Post,
4 May 1998 ($)

The Internet Public Library Guide to Web Searching

The Spider's Apprentice (search engines)

To learn more about this college editing textbook or to order
an educational review copy, please visit
McGraw Hill.


Editing for the Web

Research

Few Web news sites have their own reporters; even an operation such as the Washington Post's, with more than 150 employees, exclusively lets its editors develop interesting content.

The lack of original reporting may seem to be a serious drawback, but in the online environment, it isn't. One of the benefits of the Web is that it allows people to go directly to the source of the news, to check out the original documents, transcripts, etc. As Jon Katz has written:

The Net makes the transmission of factual data — as opposed to the knee-jerk dogma of the spokesperson culture epidemic in old media — available to people easily and on demand. Here, we can easily assemble not just the liberal or conservative position, but all sorts of research and opinion almost instantly.

One good example of editors researching and preparing online packages is Word's account of the events leading up to the murder conviction of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a man sentenced to death for a crime many say he did not commit. The package includes the complete defense motion for his release, a clickable image map of the scene of the crime, bios of all witnesses and a chronology of events.

In the fast-paced world of the Web, few editors have the extravagance of lots of time for research. There is, of course, no shortage of information on the Web itself, but unfortunately, much of what's out there is dubious, at best. Fortunately, the Web also offers a great deal of reputable databases and sources. Some examples:

  • FedStats offers direct access to the latest data from more than 70 U.S. government agencies.

  • Profnet locates experts at universities, research organizations, government agencies and corporations around the globe.

  • The Internet Public Library, compiled by researchers at the University of Michigan, provides an index of links to Web sites in a range of disciplines.

  • Bigfoot.com lets users search for White Pages and Yellow Pages listings, as well as email addresses.

Not all information can be found on such sites. For instance, in many cases, an editor is looking for Web sites related to a given topic. For a Halloween feature, an editor might want to find sites that provide tips on carving jack-o'-lanterns. In that case, search engines can come to the rescue.

Internet search engines are great tools — but like all tools, they have their limits. For starters, a 1998 study found that search engines index only 3 percent (Lycos) to 34 percent (HotBot) of all 320 million Web pages. To get the best results, an editor has typically had to perform the same search on several engines. Lately, however, some enterprising people have come up with sites that offer various "meta" searches. Metacrawler, Inference, ProFusion and Dogpile all send a search query out over multiple search engines. It's important to keep in mind, though, that every search engine has its own rules and special features, which users must learn to use efficiently. Unfortunately, the "meta" search engines don't allow use of them.

In addition, other search engines offer features not usually found in the standard entries. For instance, Google ranks results based on how many other sites link to a page. DirectHit ranks results based on how many previous searchers have chosen to click onto a "hit" and how much time they spent there once they clicked.

Another interesting twist is offered by Northern Light, which lets users search its own index of 120 million Web pages or its special collection of more than 5,000 publications — or both.

Even when a Web staff includes writers, an editor who knows how to search effectively will be a tremendous asset in developing compelling stories. But I'm getting ahead of myself ...

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