Until the late 1990s, using computers to conduct research was not as widespread as now. Instead, information was found primarily in newspapers and books, and gathering data could take a long time. With the rise in use of personal computers in both offices and homes, this gave way to multiple, online, up-to-the-minute sources of news and information online.
This shift is due in part to the range of information available online. Simple search engine results can result in new chains of thought and argument in a research paper, and information stored in one geographic location can be quickly transmitted to another. There is no guarantee that local libraries will have information about esoteric subjects, so having the internet as an alternative source can be important. However, it's important to keep in mind that all content on the internet is generated and placed for a reason, and that the information you are reading may have a bias based on this which you should be aware of when using it as a source.
How can you find reputable sources? Look for sites with URLs that end in .gov and .edu, as these are from government and educational institutions. Sites that end in .org can also be useful, but they can also have a more biased approach to the subject matter. You can also look for websites of foundations and organizations which are nationally recognized in the field you are researching.
If you have want to collect data across several days' worth of updates, try subscribing to your sources' RSS feeds. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and these sites can make putting together research about current events much simpler.
To find people who share your interest in your subject matter, tap into groups on sites like Google, Yahoo and MSN, and talk about your sources and material with the people you meet there. They may have suggestions for additional sources, or they might be able to help verify sources you aren't sure about.
When searching, make sure that you know tactics for both Boolean Log and advanced search. You can either type Boolean Logic phrases to make your search engine find instances of X where Y was also included, but Z was not, or you can click to the "advanced" tab for any of these search engines, and then use those features to formulate more advanced queries.
Test as many possible spellings of your search terms in as you can think of. Sometimes spellings change over time, and sometimes people with important information simply catalog it incorrectly! Checking your data in search engines which catalog information according to different criteria will help you find a wider range of information.
Finally, as the browsing software market opens up, take time to select a web browser that will help you organize your research as well as conduct it.