When I was a freelancer early in my journalism career, one of my biggest frustrations was not having a clip file to find out what had already been reported on a story and get a list of sources on a particular topic.
The Internet has changed all that, providing freelancers with the equivalent of a massive online newspaper morgue that can be mined for background information on any story.
Here are some of the best Web sites a journalist can use to locate news stories.
For the latest articles on a breaking news event, it's hard to beat moreover.com.
A media 'aggregation' service, moreover.com scans 1,500 news and information sources on the Internet as often as every 15 minutes, and catalogs the stories it finds at each site.
You just type some keywords into the 'Find that story' search box on the right of the moreover.com home page, and the headlines of any stories matching your terms are retrieved, with the most recent ones listed first.
Click on a headline would take you to the full text of the story (or, in some cases, a streaming audio broadcast) at the media outlet's Web site.
Most of the stories moreover.com includes in its database are free. Those that require filling out an online registration form are marked with the notation 'reg,' and the few that charge a subscription fee are labeled 'sub' (such as the Wall Street Journal's online edition).
A similar news aggregation service is TotalNews.
TotalNews also scans hundreds of Internet news sites every few hours and lets you do a global search of all those news sources by keyword. It purges stories older than about 10 days from its database, while moreover.com keeps stories as old as five months.
What if you need earlier stories?
Online Story Archives
One site to try is 'U.S. Newspaper Archives on the Web', run by The Special Libraries Association, an organization for news librarians.
This site lists newspapers on the Web that have searchable databases of back issues. The list includes the Internet address of each database, the range of publication dates available and whether fees are charged to access the stories.
And there's a separate list for non-U.S. newspapers.
Several other Web services also track what newspaper databases are available online. A list of those has been compiled at the Library of Congress' newspaper indexes site.
For magazine story archives, you can try FindArticles.com, which has a database of 300 magazines and journals going back to 1998.
At FindArticles.com, your search words are applied to headlines, bylines and a list of keywords in articles in those magazines and journals. To see which publications are available in the FindArticles.com database, at the home page click on the highlighted words 'by Name: A-Z.'
Another source of older stories is the 'Special Collection' section of the Northern Light search engine. This is a database of articles from 7,100 newswires, magazines, journals, books, and other reference materials.
To search the collection, go to the Northern Light power search page, type your keywords into the search box and select the button for 'Special Collection.'
If your words appear in any of the Special Collection articles, an abstract of the story will be retrieved. To see the full story, you'll have to pay a $1 to $4 fee.
Similarly, the UnCover online service lets you search titles and keywords for more than 10 million articles that appeared in 18,000 journals in the past 12 years.
At the UnCover site, click on the 'Search UnCover' button on the left to begin a search.
As with Northern Light, you can search for free to get article abstracts, but you then must pay to have the full text faxed to you. That costs $10 plus whatever copyright fee the publication charges.
The UnCover site recommends you check with your local library to see if it carries the publication, which you can read for free.
You also can jot down the information in an article abstract and try finding the publication's Web site to see if the story might be available there for free.
Finding Media Web Sites
To locate the Web pages of particular publications, you can use the familiar Yahoo index or the AJR NewsLink site, home page for the American Journalism Review.
Yahoo has a news media directory where you type the name of a media outlet into the search box. Click on the button to the right for searching 'just this category.'
NewsLink has an online catalog of the Web sites for newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations and networks throughout the world. To search the lists, at the main NewsLink page click on the 'search' link in the menu on the left.
Not sure what the name of a media outlet is in a particular city?Try HomeTownFreePress, which indexes 5,000 newspapers around the world by the names of the cities they serve.
Another good site for locating publications is PubList.com, which has 150,000 magazines, journals and newsletters in its directory. Unlike many of the other online indexes, PubList also catalogs Internet-only publications such as Salon, Feed and Suck.