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Practice Report: Reliable Research Sources
Tuesday, 5th February 2013
Jan Knight examines FreePint's recent articles on the rapidly changing face of the media and looks at how these articles demonstrate that we should exhibit a little healthy scepticism to ensure that we identify reliable, trusted news sources.
"Truth" and "trust" may not be words that normally come to mind as a potential theme for a report like this, or at least that’s what I thought until I was scanning articles to select for the FreePint Report: Research - Part 1 (Information Practice). It’s always important for those who research information to be able to identify robust and reliable information (aka truth), and for those who provide the information (e.g. traditional serious journalists) to present what they believe to be the truth. However, it’s clear from reading recent commentary that the advent of more informal media and crowdsourced news is heightening the responsibility and urgency to find truth on both sides of the equation. The articles in this report appear to support this.
Three Fundamentals for Business Research in the Post-Truth Era is an article on the work of business researchers and how it has always involved finding, evaluating and making sense of an abundance of information from disparate sources. The goal, of course, is to use sources that provide accurate and reliable information. However, with the advent of more informal content channels this has become more difficult as news distribution is evolving rapidly. Sometimes, it’s actually just human error that can cause error – journalists pushing to meet deadlines and not being careful, or researchers not vetting sources well enough to identify potential bias - as we often see in press releases.
Penny Crossland’s article on Trusted Sources in the Digital Age – Who Will be Your Guide? adds to the debate, with discussion of a presentation by a distinguished former BBC foreign correspondent whose own analysis had resulted in his belief that “only about 10% of online news could be trusted”. He does, however, believe that with open communication organisations can indeed be regarded as trustworthy information sources.
In Penny Crossland’s discussion of Wikipedia beating traditional media at breaking news, she notes how crowdsourced information such as Wikipedia and Twitter is often, to many of us who do research, not considered robust or serious enough. It is also frequently too biased for us to incorporate into our sources or to cite. However, these sources may sometimes have an advantage over traditional media in alerting the public to fast-breaking news events. Citing a study of a Wikipedia page that was set up almost immediately after the recent US school shooting, it was found that after the initial burst of news and information during the first couple of days, what were considered more “experienced editors - self-appointed overseers of news” took responsibility for mediating discussions and editing articles to help convey the truth. Penny also talks about needing the right skill set to be an information professional and includes among those skills scepticism as a means to be actively conscious of the possibility of error. It helps, of course, to know something about how media content gets developed.
The need for truth and trust is not just found in business and politics, but in prospect research used by non-profits to assess the inclination of donors to give, as well as to identify those who have the ability to give. An important question when identifying individuals and their philanthropic history should be “Is this really the person I think it is?” Confused identity caused by common names or family legacies is only one area of truth to be searched out.
In Robin Neidorf’s Interpretation of Images: Why News Analysis Matters, she points out that the news environment is awash with images and video, but as multimedia is becoming easier and easier to manipulate we are seeing an increase in the number of falsified images, photos and videos in our news. The article cites results of BBC Monitoring's analysis of multimedia coverage in the Middle East and provides powerful examples of images manipulated to mislead the public for political gain.
A final thought on truth and trust is that the onus is on all of us – content providers, news bureaus, journalists, researchers and everyday readers to seek the truth from trusted sources and not always believe what we see and hear without a little healthy scepticism being exhibited.
By Jan Knight
Jan Knight is an independent market research consultant and President of Bancroft Information Services. She provides customised business intelligence and secondary market research to consultants and companies in all industries. Her work helps to shape business plans, marketing strategies and new business development for a diverse set of clients including start-ups, technology companies, marketing strategists, and small and medium businesses.
She is a frequent presenter on market research topics at the Arizona Center for Innovation, the Technology Business Incubator associated with the University of Arizona in Tucson. Jan holds an MA in Information Resources & Library Science from the University of Arizona, and a B.A. in Renaissance/Humanities Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Originally from England, Jan moved to Tucson in 1984 and has worked in both the advertising/marketing and publishing industries before starting her own business in 2001.
Jan can be reached at email@example.com
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