Al Tompkins reports on Poynter Online about “How to Get Online and Get Information Fast” with tips and techniques you can use for your blog posts, stories and articles. He tracks a news story he was a part of it step-by-step through the process of how he and his team found information on a nearby airplane crash in order to report on it.
At 11:30 Sunday morning I was munching on bagels and chatting with a team of WNEP-TV news managers and producers about getting more enterprise reporting in their newscasts. The Scranton, Pa., ABC affiliate is the nation’s highest rated network-affiliated television station. On this rainy and overcast morning, in the middle of the May Nielsen ratings sweeps, the management and reporting team wanted to learn about how to tell richer stories.
The seminar had barely begun when someone broke in on the meeting with the somber announcement: “A plane is down.” We adjourned the meeting and went to work. My goal was to use the Internet to find out as much about the accident as I could and to teach others, step by step, how to do the same. The objective: making the reporting as clear and comprehensive as possible.
While not all bloggers think of themselves as writers or journalists, the techniques he describes applies to anyone researching a story to blog about. Tompkins begins simply with the information they have at hand, and then works to expand that information by checking with organizations that deal with this situation. In his case, with the plane crash, it consisted of emergency services, industry services, and then moved in towards information they had on the ground from eye-witness accounts and more emergency services until they had what could be called “the facts”.
I found the process he describes to be fascinating. They stopped for a moment to ask themselves the key questions that the viewers would want to know, and then set out to answer them. Instinctively, I thought about what I would want to know first before I looked at his list. My list was:
- Where? And how close to me?
- Is anyone alive?
- What is the amount of damage, to the plane and crash site?
- Is anyone hurt?
- What kind of plane?
- How many people involved?
His list was:
- What kind of plane was it?
- Where was it coming from and where was it heading?
- Whose plane was it?
- Did the plane crash or did it find a road to land on as the tower hoped it might?
Okay, so they are close, but his list is more fact oriented and mine is more compassion oriented.
With the core questions, he and his team then set out to get what information they could based upon the questions and the available facts.
When you set out to do some research on a blogging topic, do you write down a list of questions or outline on the topic you want to cover? Do you know the questions that need to be asked about the topic? Or is the purpose of your research just “one question driven”?
A “one question driven” purpose is the attempt to find a solution to one subject. For example, if you want to figure out how to how to search and replace in a MySQL database table, and the answer you get that helps you the most is the answer you need.
A “multiple question driven” purpose is one that needs answers to several questions in order to get the full answer. For instance, learning about blogging asks a lot of questions to answer the main premise. You need to ask “why do you want to blog”, “what will you be blogging about”, “how do you want to blog”, and “who will you be blogging for” before you can start to learn about the specific involved in the type of blogging you want to do.
Getting the Information Fast
While Tompkin’s article was written in 2000, and search engines and the volume of information now found online has increased tremendously, as has the ability to get access to freshly update news and information improved greatly, the task of finding the information to answer your questions is still one that plagues many writers, bloggers, and journalists. And how to trust the information you find.
I will be posting a huge list of methods to find content and stories soon, but the key to finding the information you need is to look in the right places.
This means clarifying the questions. In Tompkin’s example, they needed to know the type and history of the plane that crashed. Using Google to search for that information would be nice, but they knew that the key place to start would be with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and NTSB (National Traffic Safety Board). When information still couldn’t be found, then they moved on towards general search engines.
Look at the information you need in order to answer the questions. Who will probably have the best information and resources? Go there to start. Work your way through the possible resources from the micro or macro resources to the wide-angle of general search engines. Start with specific industry representative sites, then move to specialized sites, search engines or directories. At the end of your searching, then hit the general search engines to find a wider possibility of results. Unless you know nothing about the topic at hand, then you would start with broad searches to narrow down your options for answers.
Trust and Accuracy
Trusting the information you find is a big problem. How do you trust it? First, collaborate it. If you can find others who say the same thing, then the odds are that what you read is true, unless they just are saying it because everyone else is saying it. That makes using blogs as valid collaboration a bit challenging. Once a rumor gets started, it reproduces like rabbits.
Check with hoax and urban legend sites to see if the facts you are reading are really made up. I have a list of such hoax checkers in my article on Hoaxes, Rumor Mills, Chain Letters, and Online Trash.
When in doubt, either don’t, or say you are not sure about your facts and this information hasn’t been confirmed. Or call up the people directly in charge and find out what the facts are. Don’t perpetuate the rumor mills. Go with the facts when you can.
Journalist versus Blogger
A blogger is not a journalist, but a blogger is a type of journalist, reporting upon the world around him or her. If you want to get the story “right”, then you need to get the facts. If you need the facts, you have to go hunting and researching.
So how do you get your information online, fast, and accurate for the topic you are researching? Any tips, tricks, or techniques? How important is it to you to “get it right”?
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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen