ICOG How-To: Searching for the Good Stuff

What do you do when you need to find out about a state contract or a doctor’s disciplinary record? Make a public records request, of course. But many times you can find what you need online if you take just a few minutes for a targeted search. ICOG board member and former investigative journalist Gerry Lanosga walks you through some tips and top sites for savvy surfing.

 

We’re all guilty of the scattershot Internet search – just hopping online, slapping some words into Google and seeing what we get. And much of the time, Google is so good that we find something to meet our needs. But many casual users of online information don’t realize that there’s a lot of information out there that you can’t get to directly from Google (or whatever your favorite search engine).

 

Mainly, I’m talking about government data that citizen activists, journalists and others interested in public information need. Researchers call this data part of the invisible web, because it’s locked up in databases where search engines don’t dare to go. So if you search for William Hall in Google, for instance, you’re not going to get a hit on the William Hall who gave $15,000 to the Republican State Committee in 2003. For that information you’d need to go mine the state’s campaign finance data yourself.

 

The key is targeting your search effectively, many times bypassing search engines altogether to get information that’s perhaps a little trickier to find but that is still available – instantly and for free – without having to submit a request for public records. One caution flag – online data often can be outdated, so it’s surfer beware: better to double check with an agency before relying on information that is subject to change or update.

 

With that in mind, here are some of my favorite sites, government and otherwise, for tracking down information about Indiana and beyond:
What Notes Link
Indiana State Contracts Download a current Excel spreadsheet at the Department of Administration’s web site IDA Active Contracts
Indiana Workplace Safety Check out your company’s records with OSHA’s establishment database IDOL – OSHA
Federal OSHA
Indiana Campaign Finance Learn about campaign contributions, expenditures, and other election information. ISOS – Campaign Finance Database

Federal Election Commission Campaigns Database

Federal Election Commission Candidate Database

 

Indiana Non-Profits
How much did that charity spend on actual charitable work?
Foundation Center From 990 Search

Guidestar Search (free registration)

Statistics Stats Indiana

USA.gov Data from the Census

Census Data Factfinder

 

Web and Internet Information
Who registered a domain?  Archives of websites over time?
Wayback Machine

Whois

School Information How many kids got expelled for guns or drugs at your child’s school? 

Demographic information of school districts?

IDOE Data

IDOE Compass

Blogs Indiana Blog Roundup
Environmental Discover enforcement information, etc. IDEM Actions Database
Newspaper Archives You can access archives of newspapers via the web or through your local library. U.S. News Archives on the Web

Proquest

Front Pages of Newspapers

Federal Government USA.gov (formerly FirstGov)

Government Accountability Office (search for background information and investigations on just about anything)

PeopleFinding Anywho

Clusty

General Reference RefDesk (a good all-around site with links to references)

Inspire Indiana

Library Spot (links to all sorts of libraries)

Journalism References AssignmentEditor.com,

Journalist’s Toolbox

Reporter’s Desktop

Tutorials about Online Research Hone your skills at online research
Note:  In fact, there is a ton of enforcement data on the state’s servers – just go to an agency’s page and poke around. You’ll find discipline records on doctors, actions against insurance agents, information on attorneys, inspections of daycare centers and nursing homes and much more.

Good luck surfing.

Contributor: Gerry Lanosga