Whether you are a student, writer, journalist, or newshound, you are often in need of sources. For most of us, the days of spending hours in a library accessing card catalogues, microfiche, and microfilm are over. Not only do most of us no longer need to use such time-consuming and inefficient technologies in search of information, many of us rarely feel the need to physically step into a library. We now have the power of the internet to access, from the comfort of our homes, an almost endless stream of information. Though we may still need to buy or borrow books, magazines, journals or newspapers for our research, the internet once again gives us ready access to information about them, their publishers and authors, and a means to buy or reserve them.
With such ready access to information, and such a dizzying number of sources, how can we know which sources to trust? How do we know the information we access is not only accurate and thorough, but also fair and balanced? How do we know whether a given source has a political, social, ideological, or demographic agenda or bias? The long answer is to take the time to read our sources thoroughly and critically, and to research the authors, institutions, publishers, and sponsors behind them. But increasingly, people either lack the critical thinking and analytical skills necessary to judge their sources, lack the time to do so, or both.
This is where Consider the Source; A Critical Guide to the 100 Most Prominent News and Information Sites on the Web by James F. Broderick and Darren W. Miller comes in. They have done much of the work for us, at least for 100 sites. As the title unambiguously suggests, the book examines and guides us through 100 prominent online news and information sites. It purports to give us "a glimpse behind the screens of the most important news and information Web sites–from those connected to global news services to those connected only to the modems of independent journalists and idiosyncratic culture watchers."
Jim Broderick, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of journalism at New Jersey City University in Jersey City, NJ. He started his career writing for Indiana State University's newspaper, The Indiana Statesman, and has written for newspapers and wire services in New York City and in the Midwest. Broderick is the author of two books — Paging New Jersey: A Literary Guide to the Garden State (2003, Rutgers University Press) and The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek (2006, McFarland Publishing) — and lectures frequently on New Jersey literature and pop culture.
Darren Miller has worked as a reporter and editor for newspapers in New Jersey and North Carolina. He spent two and a half years covering people and politics for The Mountaineer. Miller has also been editor-in-chief of The Gothic Times in Jersey City, writing about such topics as the death penalty, murder trials, municipal corruption, and natural disasters. He has appeared in schools and elsewhere to talk about journalism, and writes about the media on his blog, Taking Notes.
Broderick and Miller, having recently written Consider the Source together, are now working on Web of Conspiracy: A Critical Guide to the Conspiratorial World on the Internet, a book about conspiracy theories and the Web. Much more information, as well as links to the 100 sites profiled in Consider the Source, can be found on their website, The Reporters' Well.
Consider the Source does not, nor could it, discuss or even list every important source of news and information on the internet. How then did the authors decide which sites to cover? They do state that the sites chosen have a certain prominence, reputation, and importance, and, significantly, that they offer content that is largely free. How exactly they defined prominence, importance, and reputation is not entirely clear. These are, after all, subjective terms. Was prominence defined in terms of circulation or number of hits, or were polls conducted? How was importance defined? Important in what way and to whom? And what exactly constitutes a "certain reputation?" These questions aside, having extensively perused the guide, it's safe to say that the sources — some well-known, others less so — cover a wide spectrum and are treated critically and fairly.
Consider the Source examines the strengths and weaknesses of each site and provides links. The sites are listed in alphabetical order. The criteria used to evaluate the sources are fairly straightforward: balance, thoroughness, compelling writing, and sensible use of available technology. The section on each source is divided into the following useful, and fairly brief, areas: "Overview," "What You'll Find There," "Why You Should Visit," "Keep This in Mind," and "Off the Record." These provide the reader with both an overview of the source, its site's main features, reasons to visit (or not to visit, in some cases), lesser known aspects, such as its history or ideological roots or leanings, and other interesting facts. A URL and small visual snapshot are provided for each source. Finally, the authors rate each site on a scale of one to five newspapers.
The authors recognize that a site's accessibility and user-friendliness are as important as its content. Some sites, while scoring high in terms of content and historical importance (see AFP — Agence France-Press, "considered to be the oldest news agency in the world"), received a low final rating because their sites were poor (one newspaper out of five for AFP).
An appendix lists the ratings for all the sites, from five newspapers down to one. This is very handy, gving the reader — perhaps I should say user — quick access to rankings for specific sites. Though the appendix is handy, I sincerely hope users will read, at least once, the complete critique of each source used. And this leads me to one concern. So many people already don't take the time, or have the critical skills, to adequately determine the value of a given source. This guide, though very useful as a reference for the busy researcher, does not provide, except perhaps by example, access to the tools themselves, the critical skills needed to analyze sources. There are, after all, many more sites on the internet than the hundred discussed here.
Consider the Source should fit comfortably on the busy researcher's reference shelf. Whether you are a newshound, student, journalist, or writer, this guide should save you a great deal of time in getting a sense of the reliability and usefulness of at least 100 prominent, important, and reputable news and information sites. Put it next to your writer's guides.