Capturing Online Evidence for Journalistic Purposes

Journalist working on an online story

As a journalist, you are probably used to saving information upon finding it. You keep detailed and meticulous notes, store documents securely, and save and back up important emails on your phone or computer. But what about the information you find online during an investigation?

Here is how things can get a bit more complicated and how to collect information:

Online information is volatile

Online content can be easily changed or removed. Websites can remove their own controversial pages, and social media posts can be edited or deleted. If you were unable to save the information before it was altered, it will be useless later. In some stories, showing how the content changes over time can also be useful, like the increase in someone’s Instagram followers.

Access to social media content can also change. For one, Facebook posts and photos that were originally made public can be marked “friends only” later on. When the original poster deletes an evidence, it will be their word against yours if you did not collect the information or did not properly do so.

Person using Facebook on their laptopCopy and paste

Generally, it is best to capture information using a laptop or desktop computer instead of a mobile device, unless your story requires content found on an app.

One of the most basic techniques of online information gathering is copying and pasting text. You are most likely aware of how the process goes, so we shall not detail it further. Copying and pasting often preserves the original font, which can be much of a hassle to format. If you do not want this, there are software programs that automatically remove text formatting.

Saving images

Saving images is another basic technique that you may already be familiar with. Images exist independently outside of the web page where you see them, and have their own web addresses. Locate the largest and highest-quality version of the image you need, as you or your readers might need to focus on a small detail.

Screen grab

Screen grabbing is a basic procedure that captures what you see on your screen. On a Mac, you only need to press Command + Control + Shift + 3. On a PC, press the ‘Prt Scr’ (Print Screen) button or Fn + ‘Prt Scr’, or press ‘Alt Gr’ and ‘Prt Scr’ at the same time to capture the active window. This makes a copy in your clipboard, and you just have to paste it. ln an email, an image editing program, or a Word document. You can also use your PC’s snipping tool or download screen capture software.

Screen grabbing only lets you have a digital image of a page. You cannot click on the links, select text, or separate our high-resolution photos.

Saving web pages

Most browsers let you save entire web pages along with images and technical files, so you can view the page and use most of its functions like the live online version. However, you cannot preserve embedded videos, perform searches, or click on the links, unless you save the pages of the link. Make sure that you save the page’s domain registration data, and pages of any connected social media account.

If you need the information of an entire website, use a web archiving software. It will allow you to archive website data and social media content in real time.

Information changes just as easily as it spreads on the Internet. When you find online evidence during investigations, capture it immediately with the appropriate technique. You would not want to save an entire web page when all you need is a paragraph. As a journalist, the burden of proof can be a great weight, but properly capturing online evidence makes your stories foolproof.

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