User Guide - Reporter's Desktop


      Q: What is the Reporter's Desktop?
      A: A collaborative, noncommercial Web site to make daily reporting and investigative reporting faster, easier and better.

      Q: What internet tools are on the desktop?
      A: A highly select list of the best-of-the best for reporting work. You will find thumbnail descriptions below.


      (Best of) Web Searches

      These are the best, and only the best internet search engines, selected for speed and utility, kept up-to-date through expert advice from people like Danny Sullivan (Search Engine Report) and feedback from users like you.

      Google search engine has drawn raves in its first year. Unlike other search engines, sites are ranked by how many other pages link to that site. It's a good indication of quality. Danny Sullivan says Google returns the most relevant results, consistently, with simple or complex searches. Google says it has indexed about 100 million web pages, but through link analysis, it covers up to 300 million pages. No other search engine comes close to that number. Added July 1999

      Yahoo is a directory compiled by professional indexers. It will almost always find the official site on the subject you want, and it generously takes you to most the other top search engines for additional rounds of searching without having to type in the key words over and over.

      Northern Light searches for web pages through a number of different engines; helpfully sorts the results into folders; and offers pay-per-view articles from some publications that are otherwise unavailable on the Web. February 1999 update: Northern Light ranked #1 in providing the most matches, followed by AltaVista and then HotBot, in latest test by search expert Greg Notess, author of the Search Engine Showdown.

      Ask Jeeves looked too silly for professional use. It's not. The site provides the most likely sites to answer your question (which you may, or may not, ask in ordinary English) and in addition it provides drop-down lists of top results from Yahoo, InfoSeek, WebCrawler, Excite and AltaVista. Added August 1999

      FAST/alltheweb is the latest to claim it covers more of the web than anyone else. The Norwegian company, partly owned by Dell, says it scans 200 million pages. Added September 1999

      HotBot leads most user surveys for the best search engine. Quickly refines your search sets to find smaller and more relevant results. Powered by Inktomi. Generally faster and more up-to-date than the other leading robot-based search engine, Alta Vista.

      Inference Find pulls the maximum hits allowed by each of the top search engines, merges the list, and discards duplicates. Added in 1997. can check about 3,000 specialized databases along with seven leading search sites. Thorough, precise -- but can be overwhelming unless you refine your search criteria. Name change from iSleuth in 1999.

      Dogpile sniffs all this:
      THE WEB: AltaVista, Excite,, HotBot, Infoseek, Lycos, Magellan, PlanetSearch, Thunderstone & Webcrawler.
      USENET: AltaVista, DejaNews, Hotbot & Reference.
      FTP: Filez and FTP Search. (Only the first word will be passed on to FTP Search.)
      News Wires: Excite News, Infoseek NewsWires & Yahoo News Headlines.

      ProFusion is a multiple search engine site for the Web and Usenet that lets you write a search, save it, and get notified by email at daily, weekly, or monthly intervals about updates to the search. ProFusion covers Alta Vista, Excite, GoTo, InfoSeek, Magellan, Google, LookSmart, WebCrawler and Yahoo searches.

      Direct Search is a wonderful collection of links to search pages on the web. Many use their own data servers and are not easily found by general research tools such as Hotbot and AltaVista. Compiled and kept up to date by Gary Price, MLIS, George Washington University.


      Map It -- Find Them

      The most useful forms I could copy from other web sites to provide one-click access to useful everyday reporting tools. With some of these, you would otherwise have to drill layers deep in subdirectories to find the actual form you need for everyday work. For a more complete discussion of people finders, see Telephone Directories on the Web or one of the journalist mega-bookmark sites.


      Reporting Links


      BigBook Yellow Pages -- The premier phone book business finder, nationwide, with over 16 million businesses.

      Zip2 Business Finder -- Over 16 million businesses by name or category -- then you get a map there.

      Air miles -- Java program calculates miles between any two places.

      Drive miles -- Another useful Java program.

      Convert It! -- Helpful program to figure Celsius from Fahrenheit, kilometers from miles, and anything else you need to convert.

      Lawyers and their specialties, partners and in some cases clients, from the venerable Martindale-Hubbell directory. Better than the Bar Association site.

      Doctors from the American Medical Association guide.

      Pilots from an official FAA site. There is a work-around if you only know a name: if you don't know the address and other items asked for in the required fields, then just enter some dummy information (type "self" for employer) and hit the GO button. You will be taken to a simpler form that only asks for first and last name.

      News Tracker -- A free clipping service that sends you a daily E-mail report on what's new in up to 50 subject areas. You can customize the searches in this extremely useful tool from Excite.

      Information Brokers -- My take on web-based companies that specialize in public records databases. Sometimes cheaper than CDB Infotek and Autotrak for much of the same information. The page also links to James Cook's "InfoPro" page and mailing list.

      Researchville -- With a minimalist design, it provides self-directed access to dozens of categorized search sites from one central location, and allows the user to organize Favorite Searches to be used again as needed. (New in February 2001. Thanks to Bob Poulsen.)

      Company Sleuth provides a free daily E-mail on up to ten publicly traded companies. Information includes message boards, investor chat, SEC filings, new patents and trademarks, press releases and business news. Registration required for the free service.


      FindLaw makes fast work of finding laws and court cases, including not only the U.S. Code but also the Code of Federal Regulations, not only the U.S. Supreme Court since 1893 but also the Courts of Appeals, not only federal but also the states. Invaluable for jailhouse lawyers in the newsroom.

      Legal Information Institute is a program from the Cornell University Law School including full-text searches of the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Code, bills and reports in Congress, and the constitutions and laws of the 50 states. Second choice to FindLaw.

      Via Villanova -- Fabulous, all purpose site on governments & courts by the Villanova Center for Information Law and Policy . A comprehensive reference tool covering a wide range of legal and government information sources, this site includes the Federal Web Locater, which is maintained to bring the cyber citizen to the federal government's doorstep. It is intended to be the one-stop shopping point for federal government on the World Wide Web. Also has Federal Court and state Web directories. The home page is packed full of links; be sure to look closely or you might miss something good.

      Via University of Michigan Library -- Daily updated directory to government web sites globally. The staff spends hours a week keeping this site current

      THOMAS -- Library of Congress site. Named after Thomas Jefferson. Quick access to Congressional Records, bills by topic, etc.

      EDGAR -- Securities and Exchange Commission filings. EDGAR stands for Electronic Data Gathering And Retrieval. A related site by WhoWhere, searches EDGAR filings every day. You can set it up to e-mail you when companies you specify make new SEC filings. Another related site,, from New York University's Stern School of Business, lets you search SEC reports for names and keywords.

      EDGAR Online People -- Instant access to information on executives, directors, investors or anyone else mentioned in the filings US public companies make with the Securities & Exchange Commission. This will include compensation, stock options, board of director seats and other information. You will be accessing data that's updated every day. You can currently search the last six months of proxy filings. A complete history will be available in the future. (New December 1997.)

      Corporate records -- Page designed for fundraising "prospectors" shows where to look up companies in every state to "mine" for money. For reporters, a valuable collection of tools to dig up information on those same companies.

      GovBot Database -- Searches 185,000 government web sites, and counting.

      GPO Gate provides access to full-text databases made available by the Access program of the Government Printing Office in Washington, D.C. Includes the Congressional Record, bills and reports, the Federal Register and GAO reports. From the University of California libraries.

      Fed Stats layers a powerful search engine on top of statistics-laden sites at more than 70 government agencies. For instance, type in "construction" and "salary," and FedStats will locate the Bureau of Labor Statistics' "Occupational Outlook Handbook" report on construction-manager salaries along with a National Science Foundation survey on career choices. Also covers education, justice and census statistics.

      OSHA safety & health inspections -- Probing new site from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. You can quickly search for health and safety violations by company, state or industry type. (First online June 6, 1997.)

      FAA Aviation Safety Data -- While many of the same statistics are available on both agencies' sites, the FAA and the NTSB present the data differently. At the FAA site, you can model your own search, either by airline, type of aircraft, and where and when incidents took place. The site lets you scour the FAA's Incident Data System, the NTSB Aviation Accident/Incident Database, NTSB Safety Recommendations to the FAA with FAA Responses, or all three. You can spend hours reading about close calls and mundane technical mishaps, all based on reports filed by the airlines. (New Feb. 28, 1997)

      Right-to-Know Network -- Free access to great databases on environment, housing and finance. Started with the Toxic Release Inventory in 1989, and grew to include health, Superfund, accidents, water permits, chemicals, and environmental enforcement; mortgage and housing surveys; and Campaign Contribution Data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

      Secretaries of State -- Links to all Secretary of State online search sites in all 50 states and D.C. Many have extensive collections of public records, corporate records and Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) lien filings. James Martin, President, Government Files Online, Inc., 727-821-0904,, tries to keep it current by updating weekly.


      NYT-Navigator -- What some New York Times reporters use as a web launch pad. Free site requires registration and password.

      Mega-Bookmark Pages is Yahoo's list of news and media sites.

      PowerReporting -- Search strategies, e-mail alert services, bookmarks for journalists and related training guides and books, from Bill Dedman.

      A Journalist's Guide to the Internet is the comprehensive, up-to-date site from Chris Callahan of the University of Maryland at College Park.

      CAR/CARR -- Comprehensive computer-assisted reporting links. From Dean Tudor, Ryerson Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting in Canada.

      Schlein Online - Informed comments on sites to background people and companies, helpfully reviewed by Alan Schlein of -- Links to Investigative Reporters and Editors (, National Institute of Computer Assisted Reporting (, and other organizations.

      > Beat Page -- A zillion valuable pages for beat reporters, compiled by Shawn McIntosh of The Dallas Morning News.

      Prof Net -- Twice daily service helps journalists query professors. If you need confidentiality, phone first.

      Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press -- Free legal help a phone call away.

      > Fill-in FOIA -- An easy way to write a good request letter under the Freedom of Information Act. Sponsored by the Reporter's Committee. Another site gives you a fully automated fill-in-the-blanks form letter to file records requests with any of the 50 states. For other FOIA information, check my IRE handout on FOIA fundamentals, the Elecronic FOIA and my fill-in FOIA.

      New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.

      Cable News Network, CBS and National Public Radio.

      The AP Raw Feed by way of Tampa Bay Online.

      Free News Archives

      1st Headlines News checks 166 newspaper, broadcast and online sources for the latest news.

      TotalNews is a free clipping service on the web.

      Washington Post/AP Index -- A searchable index of the last two weeks' stories in the Washington Post and Associated Press.

      The Electric Library provides a free index to articles, but charges for the full texts and requires a membership and password for full usage. An inexpensive alternative to Lexis.

      Other Searchable Newspaper Archives from Ecola.

      Hoover's Company Profiles --  Quick takes on more than 10,000 off the largest companies, including a description, address, officers, sales and employment figures, and links to full-text news and financial reports. (Added Nov. 25, 1997)

      MedLine -- Perhaps the best reporting site on the web, Medline provides summaries, in English, of more than 9 million medical research papers from around the world.

      xrefer -- (New in May 2000) A really fun reference site lets you search reference works from Oxford, Penguin, MacMillan and Bloomsbury. They're basically putting up some great books for free searching and trying to make it work as a free (advertising-supported) site. If it works, they plan to add another 30 titles. So far they have included:

      Bloomsbury Biographical Dictionary of QuotationsBloomsbury Thematic Dictionary of QuotationsBloomsbury ThesaurusThe Grove Concise Dictionary of MusicOxford Dictionary of ArtA Dictionary of Business, Oxford University PressConcise Medical Dictionary, Oxford University PressOxford Dictionary of MusicOxford Dictionary of QuotationsWho's Who in the Twentieth Century, Oxford University PressOxford Companion to English Literature (coming soon)Oxford Paperback EncyclopediaPenguin Biographical Dictionary of WomenPenguin Business DictionaryPenguin Dictionary of PsychologyPenguin Dictionary of SociologyPenguin Encyclopedia of Places


      News Groups

      Google Groups (formerly Deja News) indexes 700 million posts from Usenet discussion groups dating back to 1981. May be a gold mine for digging reporters -- a good way to find experts and everyday anecdotes (by people who spend too much time on the web).

      A note of caution from Usenet: "Information posted on the net can come back to haunt you or the person you are talking about." Posting to Usenet has never been private. This is not e-mail. Google tells you   HERE how to remove messages you have posted in the past or hide your new Usenet postings -- include the following in the header or first line of your message: .    x-no-archive: yes shows what more than 40 million people post in Usenet and other venues.

      Forum One searches 102,000 on line web forums based on keywords (case insensitive).

      Liszt keeps track of 66,692 e-mail discussion groups from 18,000 groups on 2,348 listserv, listproc, majordomo and independent sites.


      And finally. . .

      Please write with your comments and suggestions. The Reporter's Desktop is a collaborative venture for journalists. Thank you.

      Tip Sheets by Duff Wilson, Seattle Times / New York Times:

      Hazardous Wastes-to-Fertilizer
      FOIA Fundamentals
      The Elecronic FOIA Amendments of 1996
      Fill-in-the-blanks FOIA form
      Child Abuse Sources
      Making and Keeping Sources
      Home What Why How Who