Are You An Online Research Detective?

by Kimberly A. Cook            (Twitter@ WarriorTales)

Back in the stone age when I was getting my journalism degree in the 1980s, it seemed most students had a fair idea of how to do research. With the Internet, the challenge for many writers is to make sure we double-check our facts and findings with original sources.

First let’s define an original source, because it’s not Google or Bing. An original source means you spoke to the person directly involved to get information or saw the source documents with your own eyes. Legally, the STP rule applies; when considering which document is valid, signed then typed then printed is the order of precedence. In reporter training, if we uncovered particularly sensitive or new information, we had to verify the information with two sources, not one.

Moon over my backyard Nov. 10, 2011.

For instance, if an astronomer told us the moon was made of green cheese, we better be chatting up NASA and an astronaut or two for additional confirmation. It’s difficult to know exactly who might be posting information online at any given time. The best way to get good research is to find original sources for information. If you read something on a company website, call and verify the information with the company and ask for permission by email if you want to quote the online source.

People who produce blogs, Tweets, YouTube videos and hang photos on Pinterest all have copyright to their work if they created the writing, photo or video. Copyright infringement is a huge issue with creatives since we earn our living from the gray matter between our ears. Some folks and countries don’t recognize this ownership and can quickly find themselves in court running afoul of lawyers.

One way I like to explain copyright is to imagine you built your dog a very fancy dog house. You spent the time to cut out the wood, nail it together, paint it, get the heating pad and carpeting just right. It’s a doggie palace. Your dog loves it. The next day you go out in your backyard and it’s gone. Your neighbor took it for his dog because he thought it was cool and he doesn’t see a problem. “Building” a book or song or photo or video is the same thing; their our dog houses!

The Associated Press Style Book contains an excellent section on media law and copyright infringement. If you publish online you should read it and own a copy. A favorite quote from the media law section says reporters should never use social media “as a reporting shortcut.” That goes for writers looking for information and research online as well.

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