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JOUR 300/JOUR 481: Search Tips

This guide was created for the courses JOUR 300: Reporting and JOUR 481: Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Journalism

Search Engines is a search engine that searches federal, state, and local government websites. It offers an advantage over Google because commercial and personal web sites are eliminated from the search results. There is also an A to Z index of federal government agencies.

Use Google, Yahoo, or your favorite search engine to restrict your search to a particular domain. If you only want to search the a particular agency's website, enter your search like this: [search term] in:[government domain name]. So, for example, if you only wanted to search for information about the Red Hill fuel storage tanks on the Navy's website, you would enter your search as red hill fuel storage

Alternatively, use the Advanced Search option, which can be found under the settings menu in a search engine:

google advanced search screen shot

To find charts and graphs, use the image search in Google or another search engine, then under the Tools menu, select a white background. This can narrow your search results to graphics.

Think tanks like Brookings Institution and Rand Corporation produce studies of defense spending, arms control, and security issues. Harvard University offers a Think Tank Search to search hundreds of these institutions.

Contacting Agencies

You may be accustomed to emailing contacts to ask questions or request information. While some agencies are very prompt in responding to emails, others are not, and you may need to pick up the telephone and call someone.

A general overview of the organization of the federal government can be found in the United States Government Manual.

The Guide to Hawaii Government lists contact information for local and federal officials in Hawai`i.

State Databases



Independent sources are better than self-interested sources


Multiple sources are better than single sources


Sources who Verify with evidence are better than sources who assert

A / I:

Authoritative Informed sources  are better than uninformed sources


 Named sources are better than unnamed sources

Source: Stony Brook University School of Journalism

Resources for Journalists

Online Availability

Federal government information is frequently available online. However, in some cases, publications are either not available online or there is a pay wall. For example, some large government datasets and court records can only be obtained for a fee. In addition, when websites are redesigned, old content may be removed or buried. This is especially common when there is a change of government and new agency leaders redesign websites to emphasize new initiatives or strategic directions. The Wayback Machine archives old versions of government websites.

Historical state and local government information is less likely to be online. Even recent publications may not be available online in full text. Frequently, state and local agencies are trying to conserve server space, so they only keep the most recent few years of data online. Furthermore, dynamically generated information is not archived. For example, the Oahu trail map does not archive the locations of closed hiking trails.

Oahu hiking trails map


Political Jurisdiction

To complicate matters further, it can sometimes be difficult to determine which government agency is "in charge" of an area or issue. For example, let's look at invasive species. At the federal level, you might expect that invasive species generally would fall under the Fish and Wildlife Service. However, there are dozens of agencies whose mission includes invasive species. For example, the U.S. Geological Survey has a division that deals with plants and animals. Even the U.S. Army has an environmental command that engages in habitat restoration and invasive species removal on Army lands. Confused yet? Remember who inspects your luggage for forbidden plants and animals at the airport? That's right, it's the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At the state level, a variety of agencies are at work keeping out invasive species or working to control or eradicate them. Here are some examples:

Hawai`i Invasive Species Committee (part of the Department of Land and Natural Resources) coordinates efforts across the Hawaiian Islands.

The Division of Aquatic Species monitors aquatic invasive species.

National Invasive Species Informatino Center banner