IRE14: Web tools, tips and tricks for investigations

This is part of a series of posts from the Investigative Reporters and Editors 2014 conference. Follow along with the conference on Twitter with #IRE2014. Here’s the full schedule and a list of all conference tipsheets.

Web tools, tips and tricks for investigations

Speakers: Jaimi Dowdell, senior training director at IRE

Things to learn today

  • Cut through the noise
  • Be a smarter searcher
  • Know where to find key information fast
  • Discover tools to save time
  • Learn to uncover information to drive stories

Google advanced search

  • Narrow your search terms
  • California agriculture enforcement is 8 million results. Add quotes around it, you get 7 results
  • Use the advanced search to narrow or limit the search. Search with AND / OR connectors.
  • Search Tennessee enforcement. Then with advanced search, you can narrow it to site or domain with a .gov. You can also narrow it pages with certain search words in the url.
  • You can search by file type. If you limit it to PowerPoint files, you can usually find someone’s contact information at the end of the slide deck.
  • If you want to find data or forms, you can also search for Excel file types. You often find government forms when you search for Excel and then you can make a public records request for that form.

Google image searches

  • Find an image, copy the url, then search in Google for the image url. You’ll see all the other places where that image has been published.

Search engine limits and other options

  • All search engines have strengths and weaknesses
  • Try stuff, test it and go. Use caution. Use what you find as a tip that requires more verification.
  • We all use Google first. But if you really want to search the web, you should try some others.
  • Others to try: DuckDuckGo, Blekko, Million Short. Blekko is her new favorite because she found some things on herself that she didn’t find elsewhere.
  • For background people, Duff Wilson’s Reporter’s Desktop is still very useful, especially the Who is John Doe? page on how to background people.
  • She also likes You can find social media and more.
  • PeekYou is like
  • Spokeo. It cost money and many results wrong but useful to try. You can also search for court records.
  • Other options: Facesaerch, birthdatabase, VineLink (track inmates but not all 50 states).

Records portals

  • BRBpub. Go to the public records page. You can find all the occupational licensing boards in your state.
  • Portico. From the University of Virginia. It has a directly of real estate assessors.
  • Online searches. Similar to BRB. A list of searchable databases
  • Directory. Shows state and county court database


  • WayBack Machine: Search web pages that have been removed
  • DomainTools: Find out who is behind a website. You can also sometimes find phone numbers there.

Searching social media

  • Addictomatic: Good for capturing social media around an event
  • SocialMention
  • Whostalkin
  • Samepoint
  • Icerocket


  • Search by geolocation on Twitter


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