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Help for Online Researchers


Online Inc., 462 Danbury Rd, Wilton CT 06897-2126 U.S.A., ISSN 0162-4105
Subscriptions $110/year (6 issues); individual copies $9.95

Online Inc., 462 Danbury Rd, Wilton CT 06897-2126 U.S.A., ISSN 0146-5422
Subscriptions $110/year (6 issues); individual copies $9.95

Online Inc. World Wide Web site: http://www.onlineinc.com

Reviewed by Michael Cretzman

Most journalists don't have time to evaluate the many electronic resources, products, publications and technologies available to them, nor the expertise to know which are the best resources and which are inferior.

Two U.S. magazines, Database and Online, and the World Wide Web site maintained by the publisher, Online Inc., contain useful content for journalists looking for effective and inexpensive electronic research tools.

The reviews and how-to articles in these publications help overcome time and expertise constraints by providing researchers and journalists with detailed information about online research techniques and cost analyses for many database and online services.

Database reviews and tests databases, such as multimedia encyclopedias and World Wide Web sites, and compares features and functions, allowing researchers to see which databases are best for their needs.

The cost of purchasing and using databases is presented in charts or provided by separate categories of interest, making it easy to quickly find affordable and useful databases. Database reviews help users determine the best and most cost-effective services without the costly trial and error of using each service on their own.

In a typical review of a for-fee news database on the World Wide Web, Database compared different access costs against the amount of information received, and suggested the rebate offered to users who allow their names to be placed on mailing lists may not be worth the increase in junk mail.

Readers were cautioned about the search function's lack of sophistication and Database suggested the news database is more useful for locating particular topics rather than for delivering comprehensive results. Most Database reviews conclude with a bulleted list of questions allowing readers to compare cost with ease-of-use, speed and how well their area of interest is represented.

Online magazine can help journalists and other users improve their time online with its reviews of online services and its how-to articles on research techniques. The magazine does not provide specifically Canadian content, but the online services reviewed frequently contain information useful for research in Canada.

One recent how-to article in Online, "Which Database? Which Service? Choosing Your Home System" (Online 20, No. 6, Nov/Dec 1996), demonstrates how Online can help readers create their own online 'system' to retrieve the most information from the best sources. Online systems are described as comprising a 'toolkit' of online services, including professional, general and Internet services.

According to the article, when looking for financial information on multinational companies you should use a professional service like DataStar or the WorldScope database available on the Dow Jones News/Retrieval service, plus a general service like Microsoft Network and the inexpensive Internet resource EDGAR, where most publicly-held financial statements can be retrieved. The article covers other categories of information of interest to journalists, such as health, intellectual property, politics, people, science and technology.

Many articles from Database and Online can be found at Online Inc.'s World Wide Web site (http://www.onlineinc.com), which includes hypertext links to some of the online services and databases discussed in the magazines.

The site offers two other magazines as well, EMedia Professional, covering electronic multimedia with a focus on business, and Online User, for professionals using online services to improve business practices. Canadian journalists will find Online User more valuable since it applies electronic retrieval techniques to such research tasks as market analysis and investigative research online.

"Online User's Best Business Services on the Web" (Online User 3, No.2, Mar/Apr 1997) covered thirteen World Wide Web sites, identifying tools for compiling quick business profiles. Readers can decide on which information services to use by looking at a chart displaying the cost of using each World Wide Web site, a description of businesses covered and lists of the site's features.

Free sites, such as Hoover's Online, supply 10,000 company descriptions and links to 3,000 company home pages, but inexpensive fee-based sites, such as ProQuest Direct and the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, provide an arsenal of 4,000 journals, 9,000 company briefing books and personal clipping services to catch articles missed by the free services. Online User's attention to improving business use of online services will also benefit journalists who want to improve their electronic research on business topics.

Database and Online magazines and the accompanying World Wide Web site are useful to Canadian journalists because they review electronic sources by cost and usefulness and suggest ways of improving online research. They contain little or no specifically Canadian content, but the magazines can improve users' ability to use electronic research tools to obtain this content and, consequently, improve their ability to do their job.

Michael Cretzman is a Toronto-based freelance writer and researcher.

Published in Sources, Number 40.

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