Media: What’s Credible, What’s Not?

Today marks my first day as a Newhouse graduate student. Over the next 18 months, I’ll be sharing my experiences after every live class on the virtual platform and adding my thoughts on what I learned and what piqued my interest the most. Tonight’s class focused on media: “How does it impact society?,” “Can we keep up with media convergence and technology?,” and “How do you know if a source or site is credible?”

Media impacts society today by shaping our views, regurgitating current cultural values and (hopefully) making us sharply question what we know. There are pros and cons to media today. Pros include our ability to personalize our media consumption experience. There are so many channels on TV, so many resources to look through when performing research and so many different personas and experts on social media weighing in on important topics — and we can access all of it with a click of a button. The cons, however, raise key questions in thinking about media: Is there too much misinformation out there and how can we resolve the problem of homogenous thinking? In my experience, I see friends and family only watching one news channel (e.g., CNN, FOX, ABC) and the fact is each news network presents information from one specific angle because they have one specific agenda: to tell their audience what they want to know the way they want to know it. Why? For profit. To stay relevant in this fast-changing media industry where someone can get famous from a 30-second Vine video — which takes me to the subject of credibility in the media.

Professor Strahler asked us: “What’s considered credible?” “How do you know if it’s credible?” When I conduct research for an article or source content, I always consider the following factors:

  • Where did the source come from? Take Wikipedia for example. Wikipedia is not considered a credible source because the information comes from a variety of people who may or may not have expertise in a specific area. In other words, a 10-year-old can easily contribute to a Wikipedia page in the same way a veteran journalist can contribute to a Wikipedia page. No one is filtering the information or fact-checking it. Since the information is coming from unreliable sources, the entire site itself is not considered credible.
  • Who shares, contributes or supports the source? I posted Social Media Examiner as a great resource for our #DigCommSU class because well-respected people in the journalism and marketing field use it. Additionally, the resource features articles written by social media experts and is currently promoting a summit where influential leaders in the space will share their insight. Leaders include co-founder of Orbit Media and award-winning authors. When people with a bit of clout support and are involved with certain brands, resources, etc., that elevates credibility. In addition, I also look at how strong of a following or reach the site/source has. It’s important to note, however, that the more followers a source has, doesn’t necessarily mean the better it is. You’ll have to dig in and do a little research to find out who those followers are and what their background looks like. (What’s their area of expertise?)
  • Is the content well written, spelled correctly, and consistent in voice and tone? While this may seem very basic, it is a highly important step in assessing a site or source’s credibility. I always look at the way a site presents information. A credible source should always have a consistent voice and tone with high-quality material and that means having content that is accurate and well-written. If a site has several spelling errors and constantly contradicts information on the site, then I would question its credibility.

Lastly, one of my peers Washington Post Live! General Manager Bob Bierman made an interesting observation about credibility in the media: “Erasability of things, the fact that people can delete things makes people question what’s real and what’s not … unless people [lead] their mistakes just as much as they [lead] perfect things.”

I couldn’t agree more. As media viewers and content creators (not just consumers, anymore), we have the power to push out high-quality content and help other consumers block out all the extra noise. In order to do so, we need to be willing to own up to any errors we make. Credibility is hard to come by these days, but with careful steps, we can contribute to the digital space in a positive way.

BONUS: Here’s a fun shot of our class ending on a high note!

(NOTE: I made sure to ask if anyone objected to this screenshot. I didn’t see anyone say yes, so I’ll leave this here for your viewing pleasure. Overall, a successful class!)

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 8

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