In the in­ter­net age, sources mat­ter greatly

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

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.

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