In the internet age, sources matter greatly
There it was in stark black-and-white amid a sea of colorful links and trendy phrases: every journalist’s worst nightmare.
“Forty-three percent of social media users don’t know where the stories they read originally appeared.”
Every reporter and journalist working today looks to the internet with awe and horror at the same moment. Its vast space and infinite possibilities increase the likelihood of important stories going further than ever before, while also increasing the chances that less well-known sources can find a broader audience. But the internet has also opened the floodgates to anyone and everyone to post information for others to read without proper vetting, investigation and research — losing valuable understanding and context while hiding special interests.
New research from Digital Content Next, a trade association for premium publishers, found that while most of the time (57 percent) people are aware of the source of content they’re reading on social media, 43 percent of the time they don’t know. Although the data wasn’t broken down by platform — Facebook, Twitter, etc. — we’d have to suspect that Facebook is among the worst offenders.
(After all, who doesn’t have that extended family member or friend who routinely posts links to laughably bogus conspiracy theory stories?)
The online survey of 1,000 respondents age 12 to 54 found that well-established brands that have invested in a social media approach were more likely to be sought out by readers than lesser-known brands. Smaller or newer brands that don’t have a concerted social media approach — including using video effectively — have a harder time reaching readers.
The good news from Digital Content Next’s research is that brand awareness isn’t spread evenly by subject category. More than 60 percent of national news and sports readers reported knowing the source of the content they accessed — although that means that about four out of 10 respondents still didn’t know their source.
What’s more frightening is that 40 percent said they would click on content from unfamiliar sites, leaving them open to accessing inaccurate or biased information. And the 40 percent isn’t who you may expect it to be. Of respondents ages 12 to 19, only 19 percent said they would click on unfamiliar content, despite misconceptions that young people aren’t as brand loyal as their older counterparts.
What the survey actually finds is that older readers, who may be less familiar with navigating the internet than their younger peers, are accessing unfamiliar content at a higher rate. The belief may be that young people aren’t reading established print brands like their parents do, but a 2015 survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute found differently.
The survey of Americans ages 18 to 34, sometimes called the millennial generation, found that two-thirds of respondents said they consume news online regularly, often on a social networking site. Of those, 40 percent do so several times a day.
The AP’s survey found that future generations will likely rely on social media to be the access point to much of the news they consume. Couple that finding with the DCN’s survey that determined ignorance of sourcing, and we have a dangerous mix.
It should matter what your source is. Finding a trained journalist to work for you is important. Quality journalism is defined by accuracy, insight, information and — perhaps most importantly — fairness.
Journalism should inform readers about the communities and world in which they live, while also providing a diversity of views so readers can make informed positions and decisions for themselves. Those who are not trained journalists will find it difficult to navigate the world of news-gathering and their product will reflect it, whether readers are educated enough or not to notice.
Being properly informed is important in our society. We ask that, regardless of your personal beliefs, you find an established voice with proper training among the many available to help inform you.
Sources do matter.