If you stumble upon a suspect web site in the course of your personal research, you'll probably just discard it and move on. But a journalist needs to dig deeper. As a wise man once said, "Trust but verify."
You can test an author's assertions by searching Google News for mainstream published reports or Google Scholar for academic studies.
If you encounter a bunch of statistics, you can verify facts by consulting web sites like FedStats and the Statistical Abstract of the US. But first make sure that you understand the data. I suggest consulting "Statistics Every Writer Should Know" by journalist Robert Niles.
In addition to checking the data, you may want to identify the person or persons behind a particular site. Look for links that say "About us," "Biography," "Who am I," etc. If you cannot find such links try to truncate back the url by deleting the end characters or the url in the location box. Stop at the first slash, press enter to see if you can find more information about the author or the site. Continue searching one slash at a time until you reach the first single slash which is preceded by the domain name portion. This is the page's server or "publisher."
One way to do this is by seaching for the domain name at WHOIS, a site run by the Department of Commerce. A WHOIS search will yield details such as the names of the registrant, registrar, administrative and technical contacts; the nameservers that show where traffic for that domain should be routed; and the dates of creation and next renewal for the domain. Commercial sites such as Domain Tools and BetterWhois.com offer even greater functionality like site description, the specifics of the server software, the Internet Provider (IP) address and location, and more.
WHOIS doesn't always provide the answers you need. Many domain registrations are run through an anonymous offshore service or concealed by a privacy service. For the individual or company registering the domain, such services may cut down or eliminate unwanted approaches and unwanted spam. But if you're researching the background of a website, you're out of luck.
Even if the displayed details appear to be genuine and are not concealed by a privacy service, the actual registrant may not be the person who responsible for the content. It's the same with the IP location: The owner refers to the person who owns the range of IP addresses that includes the site's IP. This may be the hosting company, or the datacenter that houses the server.
You can also find people by conducting a Google Usenet search. You can use this feature to find unkown people as well as people you know. For example, if you're doing research on dog breeders, put in the search term of the topic you are interested in, say "akitas." Click on a message, click on the author's name at the top left-hand corner of the message, and you will find everything that person has written to public usenet groups.
You can also search by putting a person's email address in the "author" field. You can also look for anything that person has written in a certain group or any keyword that person has used by adding these search terms in the appropriate boxes.
If you're looking for employees of a particular company, try putting in the last part of their email address. Example: *ibm.com will return messages from IBM employees.
Another useful tool is Infobel.com, which allows you to search telephone directories around the world. Were you researching a web site that has since disappeared? Try the Internet Wayback Machine, which contains billions of archived web pages from 1996 to the present. The Wayback Machine also provides links to older versions of a webpage.
If a web page is down, or perhaps you notice that a controversial article has been altered, use Google Cache to retrieve the page. Go to Google and use the query "cache:" followed by the url. Example: cache:www.google.com. Google takes a snapshot of each page as it crawls the web and saves them as a back-up in case the original page is unavailable.
Again, you might not always find what you need. The version you're looking for may not have been indexed. Site owners can request that Google not cache their content. And the cached version of any page only contains the first 101 kilobytes of any given page.
If you're unfamiliar with a topic, you may want to consult an expert for background. ProfNet, will find experts for you to speak with.
These tools can point you in the right direction, but they don't always lead you to your final destination. Remember the mantra: Trust but verify.
Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas
Internet Journalism 101: Exploring the Web's Possibilities by Rachel Sawyer