Whether you’re a seasoned journalist learning more about what the web has to offer or a freelancer trying to figure out how to navigate the changing sea of technology, proficiency in web searches are pivotal to your success. Through trial and error and a few essential tips, it isn’t that hard to find a wealth of information on just about anyone who owns a computer and regularly surfs the internet.
I’ve realized that one of my biggest gifts for journalism is being ahead of the curve when it comes to online research. In Jschool, I used to get blank stares from other students when I would come up with information about article subjects, just from stumbling around the internet for a few days. So, this will be the first in a potential zillion part series entitled “Basic web sleuthing.”
The first step for any journalistic sleuthing is the basic web search. My preferred engine is Google; it’s where I start before I branch out to other search engines and sites.
In the increasingly digital world we live in, people put their entire lives online to be viewed, and it’s usually easy to figure out who they are, even if they try to be sneaky.
Let’s take the hypothetical subject “Jane Doe.” For a search on Jane Doe, mother of two and an internet business owner who lives in Dade City, FL, I would type “Jane Doe” Dade City FL into my Google search box. I would hope for a personal site, some other articles written about her, a social networking page (Myspace, LinkedIn, etc.), a blog, and other sites with general information about her.
Let’s say I find a page for her business with her email address on it, but not much else. Her business is flying under the radar a bit, so it hasn’t garnered media attention, and she’s done a pretty good job of keeping her extracurricular online activities under my radar.
Except, her email address is from yahoo, and instead of being professional, it’s something like cookieroflmacopter22224545. Now, I can type her email address into yahoo and see what I come up with.
I find a deleted Livejournal, a private Myspace, some message board posts for an online game that may or may not be from her, and a personal ad.
One nice thing about Google is it offers cached results. So, from her deleted Livejournal’s cached pages, I find out she goes to Central Florida furry meets all the time under the name Janey Cat.
All of the sudden, it’s possible I might have an entirely different story on my hands. And, information like this begins to snowball after pulling a person’s layers of history on the web apart.
This is why some of my friends should fear me. I really would like some feedback on this post and the future series, so if you loved it, hated it, or didn’t care, please let me know.