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Journalism Information Literacy Framework

Searching as Strategic Exploration

Journalism requires multiple research tools and strategies to gather a variety of quality sources.

Information sources, both second and first hand, can be found in an increasing number of places and can be published or unpublished. Journalists know that finding quality information requires repeated attempts using an assortment of online, physical, and human sources. Building a toolkit of flexible methods and multiple search strategies is key for reporters. Different sources, such as public records, government documents, subscription databases, social media, press releases, numeric data, and key witnesses, require different search strategies. Novice reporters rely on familiar search processes, such as freely available search engines, and they rarely look beyond the first page of results. Expert journalists take time to develop keywords, create search strings, persist when they face search challenges, and use advanced search techniques and tools during their quest for information. Experts also search for and identify human sources relevant to a story, and seek out diverse perspectives for their reporting. While novice journalists are unsure what to do after using a public search engine, experts engage in a search process that can take them from their laptop to the courthouse, to a library archive all in the same day—and they are prepared and well positioned to consider how each type of source employed in their reporting might inform a story.

Knowledge Practices

Journalists who are developing their information literate abilities

  • use multiple channels to identify a variety of human and secondary sources that may yield information about a story;
  • develop reliable strategies for discovering information and for identifying what information is missing or still needed for a story;
  • match information source needs and search strategies to their choice of search tools or databases;
  • understand which institutions, governmental bodies, individuals, and agencies produce and preserve information, and how that information is organized and accessed;
  • design and refine needs and search strategies as necessary to create the final story;
  • use different types of online searching language (e.g., controlled vocabulary, keywords, natural language) appropriately;
  • apply appropriate computer programming languages or related digital skills and tools to their reporting (e.g., web scraping, application programming interfaces [APIs], data visualization software);
  • develop effective interviewing skills when gathering information from human sources;
  • know which information is collected, and legally available to the public, but must be retrieved through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests;
  • understand the typical design and underlying structures of search tools and transfer multiple search techniques across those different information tools.

Dispositions

Journalists who are developing their information literate abilities

  • exhibit mental flexibility and creativity when identifying and gathering sources;
  • understand that first attempts at searching do not always produce adequate results;
  • understand the ways in which algorithms influence what information is retrieved (e.g., in search engines and on social media), and that this can affect the way a story is told when using these sources of inquiry;
  • realize that information sources vary significantly in content and format and have varying relevance and value, depending on the needs and nature of the story;
  • recognize the value of browsing and other serendipitous methods of information gathering in discovering and developing stories;
  • respect the role of dates and timelines when assessing their sources, tools, and stories;
  • persist in the face of search challenges, and know when they have enough information to complete a story or meet a deadline;
  • value well-organized subscription and open access databases, cataloging, and metadata that allow for easier access and retrieval of information;
  • have a willingness to learn new and emerging technologies to develop new methods of searching for and understanding information.