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  Computer Assisted Reporting

Comm 4810

Fall 2003

Welcome to the guide for Computer Assisted Reporting, taught by Allison Barlow-Hess. We will use this page to store some of the web sites and tips covered in class.

NOTE:   Off-campus access to article databases listed in this guide is limited to WSU students, staff, and faculty. If you have questions, chat with us online. Just click on the Online Assistance button at the top right of this page. Or call the Reference Desk 626-6415  or toll free 1-877-306-3140

Starting Places

Investigative Reporters and Editors A great web site with lots of links


Oh the Places Journalists Should Go   Guide by Al Tompkins, Poynter Institute, a partner with Columbia Journalism Review

Poynter Institute

The following sites were suggested by reporter Matt Flitton, (Ogden) Standard-Examiner

The Wayback Machine

Story ideas based on statistics from over 100 federal agencies

Nonprofit information

National Association of Secretaries of State has links to business filings for each state

Aug. 27, 2003

Librarians Index to the Internet  Selected web sites grouped by subject area. A good starting place when you aren't sure where to begin.

Pubmed  Over 12 million citations from medical sources, dating to the mid-1960s. From the National Library of Medicine. Some full text and links to additional information. A site  dedicated to journalists

---Tip of the Week---

Use the 'Edit>Find on this page' option to search for particular words or phrases in a document.Saves time since you don't have to read the entire document. Be sure to search from the beginning of the document.

Sep. 3, 2003

Stewart Library guide to searching the Internet  Lots of tips, links to search engines, etc.

Search Engine Watch and  are both good for info on how to search the web, comparison of search engines, etc.

--Tip of the Week---

Use Boolean logic when searching databases. Boolean logic defines logical relationships between terms in a search. The Boolean search operators are and , or and not . You can use these operators to create a very broad or very narrow search.

 The principal Boolean operators are: AND - OR - NOT

  • Use AND to combine different concepts together. This will reduce search results.

         global warming AND extreme weather

 In search engines use the + symbol:   +"global warming" +"extreme weather"

  • Use OR to gather references that contain similar terms or synonyms. This will increase search results.

         extreme weather OR flood* OR tornado* OR drought

  • Use NOT to exclude terms. Use this sparingly as it may remove useful search results.

         extreme weather NOT drought

 In search engines use the - symbol:   "extreme weather"-drought

Hint:  Some databases, especially online library catalogs, use AND automatically. For example, if you enter global warming , it will search for the words global AND warming, but not necessarily for the words to be next to each other.

Sept. 10, 2003         Is This Web Site for Real?

Evaluating web sites can be very challenging! It is often difficult to determine authenticity, accuracy, etc. of information presented. This guide suggests questions to ask as you evaluate a web site. Now try your hand determining the authenticity of the following web sites.

Boilerplate  This mechanical man was presented at the 1893 World's Fair and went on to share the limelight with Theodore Roosevelt and Pancho Villa, to name a few

The Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency  From 1868 to 1975, this little-known agency was responsible for controlling the nation's vampire and zombie populations

Feline Reactions to Bearded Men  Take a look at the bibliography used for this well documented study

National Drivers License Records Bureau   Search an online database of over 220 million U.S. driver's license photos and driver's license information currently on file, absolutely FREE.

Let's Get Serious!

Evaluating Website Content  This web site is especially useful for the links it offers

Hoaxbusters  A great starting place to find info on Internet hoaxes, fake email warnings, etc.

Museum of Hoaxes 

Another Great Site for Journalists  "Focuses on how the Internet, media convergence and new technologies are changing journalism. The site offers tips, news and commentary about online journalism, digital storytelling, converged news operations and using the Internet as a reporting tool." Type in <hoax> in the search box (without brackets). Take a look at their "Tips and Tools" and the info on blogs.

Sept. 17, 2003

Looking for some quick facts? Look at the Ready Reference and Quick Facts section of Librarian's Index to the Internet and the guide compiled for WSU's Media Writing class.

Other good sites include Megasources by Dean Tudor and Christopher Callahan's A Journalist's Guide to the Internet

Trying to verify someone's death? Use the Social Security Death Index on Rootsweb. Be aware that not everyone is listed on the SSDI. Use this guide for more info about the SSDI.

---Tip of the Week---

When searching for someone on the Internet,  try different forms of the name such as using nicknames, middle initials, or using last name first. Typing in "last name, first name" in quotation marks will bring up different results than "first name last name"

Sept. 24, 2003

Need government info? Start with Stewart Library's guide to government resources.

For sites with lots of governmental statistics, start with and (Bureau of Labor Statistics). The Statistical Abstract of the United States, which has been printed annually for decades, has several recent years online. There is a link to it on the page.

Looking for Utah information? Start at It's the starting place for Utah demographics, statistics, links to state agencies, governmental and legislative info and more.

The Almanac of American Politics 2004 is available in print (Reference JK 1012.A44) and online. Get the password from Reference staff. It's a good source for governmental info on each state. For current issues and info on each state, look at

Start at the Stewart Library's Database Finder for access to dozens of databases which include fulltext articles and citations in thousands of journals, magazines, and newspapers. Use your student ID number for off-campus access

      ---Tip of the Week---

Printing tips:

Not sure how many pages will print or only want to print a certain range of pages? Whether you're in a database or on a web site, you should be able to do a print preview. Go to File and click on Print Preview. You'll be able to see how many pages, what's on each page, and print only the pages you select. Some databases and web sites have "internal" print instructions on their web pages. If so, follow their instructions BEFORE you attempt to print or do a print preview. PDF Files have their own tool bar. Use it to save or print PDF documents.

Oct. 1, 2003

The Internet is full of news sites. NewsCenter, compiled by Gary Price, has a huge list of useful links. If you are overwhelmed by NewsCenter, try or Yahoo! News which also includes photos, audio, etc. Use their Advanced Search option for more specific searches. Also take a look at Google News.

In spite of Google's size, it is indexing less than half of the web. Gary Price's Direct Search searches what has been termed "the invisible Web"--those web sites, data sources, etc. not commonly found using Google, etc.

---Tip of the Week---

Reached a "dead" link?  Try typing in the name of the web site (if you know it) into Google, look at Google's cached site, or use just the first part of the "bad" URL (the part to the left of the first slash). For example, Gary Price's link to State Statistic Comparison Tool is a dead link  But if you go to, you can figure out where the state comparison info is located.

Oct. 8, 2003

Don't limit your Internet searching to Google. Each search engine will return some different results. Try those listed on Stewart Library's guide to search engines. Stay on top of new developments in web searching with Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Showdown

Criminal statistics and records

At the local level, try

At the state level, try

For federal statistics look at

---Tip of the Week---

If you're searching lots of web pages it can be easy to forget where you've been. Keep a search log by copying and pasting URLs of the web sites you've visited into a word processing table or Excel file as you go along.

October 15, 2003

Listservs and mailing lists encourage the exchange of ideas and information with people all around the world who share a common interest. You can find a list for just about any topic. Many journalism sites include lists for journalists. Investigative Reporters and Editors has several lists you might consider joining. To find more groups try Yahoo Groups, Google Groups, and (formerly CARpark UK, a web page devoted to computer assisted reporting for journalists in the United Kingdom, also includes links to lists devoted to journalism. offers a weekly mailing list featuring web research tricks and tips for journalists.

Did you get "flamed" and not realize it? Need to know what an "emoticon" is? Here's a glossary of terms to help explain the vocabulary of lists.

---Tip of the Week---

Most email lists have a set of rules you will want to follow if you post a message to the list.  Here are a few tips.

  • Most lists have two addresses--one to use when posting messages to the group and one to use when sending commands to the list (subscribe, unsubscribe, etc.) DON'T get the two confused!
  • Read any instructions, guidelines, etc. that you received from the list moderator when you first subscribe. File those so you can refer to them in the future if you have a question. (Make yourself an email file to store those instructions in one place)
  • Some lists give you an option of joining in "list mode" (each post is a separate message) or "digest mode" (one long message composed of all posts). If you choose digest mode, be sure your email program will support that--some programs can't handle the long messages you might get in digest mode
  • Read carefully what you receive to be sure you are not misunderstanding the message
  • Read carefully what you send to be sure your message won't be misunderstood
  • Be courteous when responding
  • Remember that readers won't have the "verbal clues" associated with face-to-face communication. If you are using humor or sarcasm, be sure it is clearly understood as such
  • Don't send long messages (over 1000 lines). Many email programs won't accept such long messages
  • Don't send attachments unless you know the list will accept them. Attachments can be problematic because of the threat of viruses and the fact that some email programs don't support attachments
  • Keep your message concise and geared to the group. Don't go "off-topic"
  • Keep the text simple--few symbols, DON'T WRITE IN ALL CAPITALS (this is called shouting), etc.
  • Limit each message to one subject and use a good descriptive subject line. Many people will read only the subject line before deleting the message or deciding to read it.
  • If you are new to a list, "lurk" for a bit to get a feel for the list. If it offers archived messages, look at those to see if your question has already been answered in previous messages.

   Oct. 22, 2003

With the Internet constantly growing and changing, how can you quickly stay on top of current events, new stories, etc? Each of you will have your own favorite "current awareness" or news sites, but here are several especially good ones to consider.

  •  Access to the entire site requires a $48/year subscription but still lots of good links available for free
  • Current Cites  Sign up for email notifications about new trends in information technology
  • Gary Price's Resourceshelf  One of my favorite sites. When it comes to finding great web sites and noting new trends relevant for information professionals, let Gary do it! The site is updated daily and you can subscribe to a weekly update/reminder
  •  Another great megasite with lots of links to current news and resources for stories
  • Many journalism sites also include links to news

Factiva is a fantastic database for "news junkies." It's currently available to Utah residents through their public libraries, via Pioneer, Utah's Online Library. Davis and Weber County residents need a library card from their local public library. Access it from or your public library's home page. Look at the Factiva news pages for a fast, easy way to see what's going on in the world.

---Tip of the Week---

Feeling overwhelmed? Tired? Bored by too much "brain stuff?" This week's tip of the week is to figure out what helps you de-stress and then get out there and do it! Whether it's exercising, a fun hobby, volunteering, spending time with friends, meditating, reading something just for the fun of it--or any other activity that helps you unwind. Take some time each day to unwind. Don't let yourself get so overwhelmed that you lose the joy of learning!

October 29, 2003

It's almost November and that means Elections! Try these sites for information on the candidates and issues.

        Local  Click on "2003 Election Info" for links to candidates' web pages, etc.    Weber County  Davis County    Local chapter of the League of Women Voters

        State  Web site for the Utah state legislature. Click on "Legislators" and search by year to find information on current legislators. You can also find links to Campaign Finance Reports here.  League of Women Voters of Utah

      Federal  Features the Political Oddsmaker with info on the odds for both State and National elections   Center for Responsive Politics, billed as "Your guide to the money in U.S. elections"  A non-partisan site  Find out what the Gallup polls say about the President's approval rating and more  Lots of good non-partisan info here. Click on "My State" at top for good links to state info as well

---Tip of the Week---

Feeling frustrated that you aren't using a search engine effectively? Remember my motto: "When in doubt, read the instructions." Most search engines offer search tips and/or advanced searching. Take the time to read the instructions--understanding how the search engine "operates" can save you time and make your searches more effective.

November 5, 2003

We've covered a lot so far this term. Now might be a good time to review. Web sites listed at the top of this guide are good starting places, both for finding good sites specific to journalists and for finding web sites with links to information sources.

Remember that generally search engines and databases require different search strategies. Search engines may allow the use of symbols such as + (to include a term), - (to exclude a term), " " to enclose a phrase, etc. Databases usually require using Boolean logic (and, or, not) between search terms and do not use symbols.

Check with staff at your local public library, academic library, and your place of employment to find out what databases you may access. Sometimes using a database will be your most effective search, sometimes the web will be most effective. Practice and experience will help you become a more proficient researcher.

No one can read every book, shop in every store, or use every web site. You have some favorite stores where you shop--think of the web in the same way. Find a few favorite search engines and web sites (like those at the top of the guide) and get familiar with them. Use them as starting places.

Story idea for the week--Agriculture in Utah

What is the status of agriculture in Utah? You'll find a lot of information at this site by Utah Agricultural Statistics Service. Click on "Publications" to find the Annual Bulletin and other reports.

Information on drought conditions can be found at this site by the National Climatic Data Center

November 12, 2003

Need a story idea? Here are some web sites in the field of Science which may give you ideas.

Stewart Library faculty have created a page with links to a selection of science web sites.

EurekAlert! can help you stay abreast of research advances in science, medicine, health, and technology. bills itself as a catalog of government science and technology Web sites

For environmental info, try The National Library for the Environment and EarthTrends

To keep current with genetics and the Human Genome Project, try the Genetics Education Center

For health and medical news, try HealthWeb and Healthfinder. And don't forget the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  The CDC also maintains the National Center for health Statistics.

Two good sites for nutrition information are Harvard's Nutrition Source and

---Tip of the Week---

If you haven't looked at Google's help screen recently, take a look. Besides the calculator, you can also use the tilde (~) to search for synonyms

November 19, 2003 

By now you know that you can find thousands of magazines, newspapers, and journals indexed in various databases. But more and more books and other library materials, such as maps, pamphlets, and photograph collections, are being digitized and shared on the web. As a reporter you might use these materials for background on a story or to get ideas for a story. Here are a just a few of the best digitization projects.

   ----Tip of the Week---

The number of digitized images will continue to grow. When searching for an interesting collection, try the search terms "digital library," "digitization project," "digitization program," or "virtual library." Academic libraries and the libraries of state historical societies are also likely places to find collections.

December 3, 2003

We're at the end of the semester! Hope you've discovered lots of great web sites, search techniques, email lists, etc. to help you throughout your career. Here are several additional web sites to investigate.

  • Researchbuzz  Another source for search engine news
  • Tool Kit for the Expert Web Searcher  Compiled by members of the Library & Information Technology Association, a division of the American Library Association. Links to some good search tools
  • Virtual Private Library  Another collection of sites compiled by Marcus Zillman. Take a look at the Deep Web resources and his pdf document "Using the Internet as a Dynamic Resource Tool for Knowledge Discovery." Although he's trying to sell stuff, he's still got a lot of useful info.


     ---Tip of the Week---

The amount of information available on the web will continue to grow, making it more difficult to quickly find a certain fact you might need for a story. Consider these tips:

  • When in doubt, read the directions! Whether it's the introductory pages of a book or the help screen for a search engine, it pays to take a few minutes to find out how the book or web site "operates"
  • Visualize the ideal resource you need--what would it cover, how would it be arranged? By focusing on exactly what you want to find, you can often come up with a search strategy or search terms
  • Network! Whether it's talking to co-workers, friends, teachers, librarians, etc., people can often be a your best resource!
  • Get familiar with library terminology to more quickly focus your search. Here are a few examples
    • biography to find info on a person's life
    • bibliography to find a list of books or other resources
    • chronology or timeline to put events into perspective
    • thesaurus to find alternate terms. A database with subject headings (like Academic Search Premier) works like a thesaurus to find related terms
  • Don't be afraid to try different search terms. If the words you're using aren't finding what you need, think of alternate terms, narrower or broader terms, etc.
  • Develop a friendship with a librarian! If you work in a place with a corporate library, get to know the librarian.
  • And don't be afraid to ask questions!

Hope this has been fun and worthwhile for each of you!

Updated December 29, 2008 . Please send comments to Carol Hansen
Weber State University, Stewart Library. Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved.

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