The source mat­ters

Record Observer - - Opinion -

There it was in stark black-and-white amid a sea of col­or­ful links and trendy phrases: ev­ery jour­nal­ist’s worst night­mare.

“43 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 in­creases 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.

The on­line sur­vey of 1,000 re­spon­dents age 12 to 54 found that brands that are well es­tab­lished and have in­vested in a so­cial me­dia ap­proach were more likely to be sought out by read­ers than less-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 4 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 info.

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 of 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 news­gath­er­ing and their prod­uct will re­flect it, whether read­ers are ed­u­cated enough or not to no­tice.

Be­ing prop­erly in­formed is im­por­tant in our so­ci­ety. Sources do mat­ter.

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