Okay. I'm not going to waste your time going into detail about how you need to be careful about what you find on the Web. If you don't know that already, step away from Google, and please don't write for reputable publications or unsuspecting clients.
That said, I have a couple of trusted and trusty sites that I turn to whenever I need to find background on a topic. (Good researchers tend to be very precise about information, so in deference to any who may be reading -- yes, Amy, this is for you -- please note that these sites are in addition to the usual credentialed universities and professional associations).
Eurekalert.org is sponsored by The American Association for the Advancement of Science. From the About Us section, EurekAlert.org "is an online, global news service operated by AAAS, the science society. EurekAlert! provides a central place through which universities, medical centers, journals, government agencies, corporations and other organizations engaged in research can bring their news to the media. EurekAlert! also offers its news and resources to the public. EurekAlert! features news and resources focused on all areas of science, medicine and technology."
It's a great site to research stories you're already working on and for getting ideas for stories you might want to pitch. Did you know there are studies that indicate some forms of obesity may be caused by a virus? Want to know the latest on climate change and Antarctica? Want to know what kind of studies the Journal of Consumer Behavior has going? This is the place. You can sort press releases by subject or date. I try to check their Breaking News every day, just to see what's up.
Another site with a wealth of information and studies, especially about environmental and poverty-related issues. Highly reputable and well-footnoted. If you're looking for something in a hurry, visit their Press Room. Sometimes the press releases will contain all of the information you need. If you write about environmental or social issues, it is probably worth your time to become familiar with the site. Need some context for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment? Need to know the size of the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico last summer? Need to understand issues surrounding freshwater shortages in India? Start here.
Can we talk about how many times ProfNet has saved my ass? It's affiliated with PRNewswire and (even if you're not on a two hour deadline) it is an excellent place to search for experts to interview for both background and attribution. Need to talk to someone who has studied the way humans seem to habituate language in the womb? Need a quote about rare lichens in Greenland? Have no idea where to find the world's leading expert on salmonids of the Kamatchka Peninsula? Hit ProfNet.
Another great site for sorting through a pile of information quickly. They also have a paid press release section so you can keep up with what's making news or what some press secretary somewhere hopes will make news. ENN is largely free for subscribers.
If you have some money for subscriptions and want to keep up with what's going on in the environmental world (especially with regards to government and policy), check out GreenWire.
There are several ways to subscribe and if your job requires keeping abreast of the latest doings in Washington, GreenWire is hard to beat. Want to know the latest details on Cap and Trade plans for climate change? Curious about the EPA's position on "downer" cows? Need to know what's up with protected habitat for Canada lynx or who's upset about the de-listing of gray wolves? Start with GreenWire.
Again, these are the top sites that I tend to use regularly. Everyone has their favorites. If you have something you'd like to share, please let me know in comments and I'll start a running list in the side column.
(And finally, a plea for footnotes. I keep working with freelance writers who send me copy without footnotes. I always send it back. Please track and document your sources. It doesn't have to be up to MLA standards, but I need to know how you know that the filling of the reservoir behind the Three Gorges Dam made the Earth wobble on its axis.)