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Posts Tagged ‘basics’

Basic Tech Tips For Journalists: Reverse Image Search

In a world with Photoshop or photo editing software at nearly everyone’s fingertips, it can be hard to know if that stunning image making the rounds is real or even recent. Also, it can be hard to track down the original source of photos or images when they pop up on Pinterest with a link to a Tumblr that links to another Tumblr that links to a blog that doesn’t cite the source.

While there’s no fool proof way to find the original, there are a few ways to track down other copies of the image and potentially the original source. One of the easiest places to start is with a reverse image search.

It’s probably a good idea for journalists to plug any images they share into these sites before passing it along or repinning it with credit to the wrong source. Why use it? Last week in the wake of Super Storm Sandy, one of the most shared photos I saw pass around social media was of soldiers standing in a downpour guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a real shot — from a few months before, not from Sandy as it was being purported to be. (Sandy spawned so many fake images, several places started tracking the real from the fake.) Reverse image searches also could help you find other similar photos of local landmarks that people have taken over the years if you search by one you have.

It’s just another tool in the toolbox and a useful trick when it works. There are a few image search options out there, so if you want to find more just search in your favorite search engine for “reverse image search” and see what comes up. The two I’ll discuss are probably the most well known, but feel free to share more ideas in the comments or links to this post.
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Basic Tech Tips For Journalists: Filter Out Email Overload

There’s a fine line between spam email and PR pitches when it comes to emails that land in reporters inboxes. Both of them can inundate the receiver and slow them from finding or seeing important messages.

As a reporter and blogger, I can’t even begin to count the number of misdirected and unhelpful messages I’ve had to wade through to find the actual messages that are relevant. I know I’m not alone when I get the umpteeth email about an event or release on legislation states and topics far away from anything I have covered or would ever cover. (Dear PR folk, it’s even more annoying when you misspell my name.) But it happens all the time, both on my work and personal email. Sometimes, these are just an influx of emails from an agency or group I want to receive messages from, such as the state Attorney General or New York Times, but that I don’t necessarily need to see immediately. Often, however, the messages totally miss the target and come from groups I’ve never heard of and certainly never signed up for.

I wanted to give some quick advice on how to make these messages more manageable. In a word? Filters. These will help move those less important messages out of your inbox and to the trash or to a folder for later perusal. I personally use Outlook (2012 on a Mac) and Gmail, so that’s what I’m going to explain here. However, most email programs and sites allow some form of filtering or rules, so the mechanics will be different, but the general idea should be similar.
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Basic Tech Tips For Journalists: Finding WHOIS Behind That Domain Name

Note: This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be sharing on some “basic” web reporting tools, tips and tech skills that journalists new to digital tools may find useful but may not know about or may be embarrassed to ask about. Often, we cover the latest tools and trends on this blog, but for new journalists or those just getting comfortable with using the web or data as a reporting tool, these will hopefully give you a good introduction to build from. If you have something you want covered or an idea of something you think we should explain (for example, that question you’ve had to ask colleagues about — or answer questions about — a dozen times already) please send me a note @meranduh or meranda@merandawrites.com or add your idea in the comments below. If you want to track these as they’re added, they’ll be under the tag “basics.”

WHOIS can be a useful, though often overlooked, tool for journalists. But what is it? Basically, WHOIS allows Internet users to find out who is behind a website by letting them access the information about who registered a given domain.

Depending on the registrar and how the domain registrant set up the domain, this information includes the name/business and contact information, including phone, email and address, of the person who bought or owns the domain. Some registrars allow users to register their domain as private, and some domain owners register their domains through proxies. In both cases, that essentially blocks the information from being public. But if the person didn’t pay extra to register private or through a proxy, this simple search basically tells you who bought and owns the site, when, who hosts it and how to get in touch with them. (Technically, registrants are not supposed to lie because that could cause the register to cancel the domain.)

All you need to know is the URL of their top-level domain (this only works for domains, not websites hosted on another domain), which you pop into any number of free WHOIS search engines. There are probably thousands of sites that offer the service, including most domain registration services. I like this one at DomainTools.

So, how is this stuff even useful to journalists? Here are a few scenarios:

  • There’s a new website you came across that someone — you don’t know who — posted with outrageous claims about some company, school, city, person, etc. on your beat. Who is behind this site? When did they register the domain? (Is it recent in response to something that just happened, or are you just stumbling on it?) How do you get in touch with the creators to get more information?
  • It’s election season and websites are going up left and right for and against issues and candidates. Who’s behind the pro and anti ISSUE X domains? They obviously have a stance on the issue and may be a good source. Got a PAC that’s funneling money or ads into one of your campaigns? Do they have a website (even an email address @domain.com with no active website can be a lead, since that’s got to be registered somewhere). Check out their WHOIS to see if there’s anything there.
  • Someone just forwarded you some crazy information posted on a domain purporting to be from a public figure or someone recently in the news. Check the WHOIS to see if the timeline and data checks out. Is the information sketchy or questionable? Was the site set up yesterday but purportedly from before then? Does it check out with other contact info you have about the person?
  • You’re working on a story about a business that’s got lots of complaints. The phone numbers you had don’t work or you can’t find one for the owner. Sometimes, the WHOIS info they registered with is different — so this is another potential lead.

If nothing else, it’s another place to look for potential sources and data. It’s also something I’ve seen mentioned a few times in news stories of late about memes taking off from political flubs. How long did it take for someone to register “BindersFullOfWomen.com” for instance (and while you’re looking it up, who registered it)? CNN pins it at 90 seconds from the moment that phrase escaped presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney’s mouth to registration. That’s not hard hitting journalism, per se, but it’s an interesting fact. And this is a sometimes useful, sometimes interesting tool.