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Adding News to Your Investigations

Editor's note: This article was written by Marcy Phelps of Marcy Phelps & Associates Inc.. The opinions expressed here belong to Marcy Phelps.

News research is an important part of just about any type of investigation. From due diligence and background checks, to workers’ compensation or other fraud investigations, to preparing for criminal or civil court, it pays to dig deep into the news. But searching for online news is challenging even for experienced researchers so it helps to have a strategy for getting the most out of your sources in the least amount of time.

When I talk about news searching with other investigators and researchers, these are the questions — and answers — that most often come up:

Why is it so important to include news research?

News sources contain information that you may not find elsewhere so they help to fill in any gaps you may have. For example, a lot of legal issues never make it into court, but they do make the news. You can also dig into the past and discover what someone’s been hiding on their resume. Recently, there were articles we uncovered that confirmed a conflict of interest not identified through public records. The news is where you’ll find the “color” including opinions and patterns of behavior.

Why is news searching so challenging?

One problem is the amount of information. Sometimes there’s too little and sometimes there’s too much. Another issue is that there are so many sources for news stories, both free and fee-based, that it’s hard to know what’s best for your specific investigation. These challenges mean news searching is time-consuming so it’s important to manage client expectations about budget and turnaround time.

What tips can help improve results?

Here are some of my favorite tips that I’ve learned along the way:

Go beyond Google: Google is a good place to start, but it will just scratch the surface of information you can find. Search in a variety of places because you’ll be surprised by how little overlap there is between the different sources.

Be prepared to pay: If you’re relying on just free sources, you might miss something important and you may be spending more time than necessary on your research. Fee-based sources include unique content and pro tools for quick searching and downloading.

Look for leads to more information: You may not find the answers to your exact questions, but you could find something that will at least point you in the right direction including experts, additional keywords, or links to related articles.

Avoid tunnel vision or confirmation bias: Keep an open mind and don’t just look for what verifies your suspicions or point of view. Start broad and narrow your searches as needed.

Watch out for misinformation: Use reliable news sources and consider everything you find with a healthy dose of skepticism. Verify what you can and use disclaimers for what you can’t.

Try searching from another country: Google personalizes searches so use a VPN to change your location. This is especially important, for example, if the subject of your investigation lives or works elsewhere in the world.

Learn the tricks of the trade: Familiarize yourself with any advanced search features or tips that will improve results. Ask technical or customer support, if available, for help with creating and refining your searches.

Don’t forget the local news: Local sources love their home town heroes so you’ll see deeper coverage on people and companies from that place. Also, the local media focus on area events long after the national outlets have moved on to other stories.

What sources do investigators like to use for news searching?

When deciding on your sources, investigators agree that the choice depends on client budget and time frame. Sometimes the type of investigation or level of risk dictates how deep you need to go, but no matter the budget, never rely on just one source. Here’s a list of some of my favorites for news searching:

Add depth and color to your investigations through news research. For better results, take the time to go beyond Google, turning to a variety of trusted sources and a strategy for using them.

About the Author

Marcy Phelps

As the founder and president of Marcy Phelps & Associates Inc., Marcy helps clients identify and prevent fraud through background investigations and asset discovery. She started her company in 2000 after earning a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Denver. A Certified Fraud Examiner, Marcy frequently speaks and writes on topics related to investigations and online research, and she is the author of Research on Main Street: Using the Web to Find Local Business and Market Information.

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