There is so much posting and reposting of content online these days, that it can sometimes be difficult to discover the true original source of a story. Once a story becomes popular on the Web, thousands of copy cat stories crop up everywhere, often quoting or summarizing the original and not as often giving proper credit. The reason many stories online get sensationalized is because people just copy and recopy information from one source to another, without bothering to verify the source.
While using those less-than-reliable sources can be an easy way to read information, it can sometimes mean that the info you are getting (especially with a developing story) is dramatized or just incorrect. When doing any kind of research, you want to get as close to a primary source as possible.
So how can you find the true source of your information in a world overrun with automatic news aggregators? You have to use a little detective work.
First, evaluate the credibility of the source you've been sent. Is it a trustworthy news source or publication, or is it a site filled with adwords and random content scraped from the web? For tips, see our "How to evaluate web sites" from our On This Day challenge materials.
If you find that the source you're reading from doesn't look totally credible, look through the content of the story and see if you can spot any attribution or links to an original piece.
If that isn't available, try going to a news source you already trust and searching for some of your subject keywords to see if you can find a more reliable version of the story.
If you think the story you read might be a copy from a legitimate source, try searching for an exact phrase from the story in a search engine by using quote marks.
If the news is about a person or organization, see if you can find their own web site for commentary or updates.
Video clips from YouTube or other video hosting sites can be tricky to locate the original source of. Look for any kind of watermark or logo within the video itself to determine the original source. If you know what program the video came from, search on that network's site to see if it has been made available for the public. Unauthorized copies of videos are often removed after a short time, so using an unauthorized video clip in research may mean that you won't be able to refer to it later, it is best to find the original source if possible.
If what you are looking for is an older source, try looking in newspaper archives or library archives, you'll be surprised how much information is available to those who look a little deeper.
And of course, primary source material is always your best bet, for places to go to find primary sources, read our blog post from a few weeks ago, "Discovering Primary Source Material."