Be wary of Online News

In the digital age, finding reliable news sources can sometimes be a daunting task, not because they don’t exist, but simply because of the abundance of content available to the average reader.

There are countless websites, blogs and social media outlets that inundate users with continually refreshing news feeds that compete for their attention. It is important that students avoid getting overwhelmed by information and learn to differentiate fact from opinion, satire and false reports.

In the age of old media, when print and television news sources ruled, most people had a clear vision of what was and wasn’t reliable. Tabloids like The National Enquirer could easily be discerned from hard news publications like The New York Times. The shift to online news, while necessary, has made it harder to determine the credibility.

A 2013 study by the Pew Research Center found 50 percent of Americans get the majority of their news online, and that number jumps to 71 percent when referring to those between 18-29 years old.

With the growing number of young patrons, the internet will likely be the primary news source for the majority of Americans in the near future. Because of this, it will be more important than ever to stay up-to-date on which news outlets are the most factual and reliable.

The incredible amount of information on the web can be quite overwhelming and may be a contributing factor to shrinking attention spans. NBC News reported that from 2000 to 2013, the average attention span has gone down from 12 to eight seconds– that’s a second less than the average goldfish.
Because of this, the way news is presented online tends to be much different and often shorter than traditional methods.

Social media has emanated as a popular way for young people to consume news. The constant updating of news feeds of Twitter and Facebook epitomize the shortening attention spans of people who invest themselves in technology. While there is certainly appeal to social media news, it does not always provide quality information.

Because the competition of online news is intense and many of the people who use social media for news are young and uninformed, some online publications have resorted to yellow journalism tactics, such as sensationalizing headlines and publishing under-researched work.

These exaggerated headlines are often coupled with shocking and heavily photoshopped images that act as click-bait for internet users. These same methods are popular in online advertising. When readers bite the bait, they are often disappointed to find a story vastly different than the headline suggests and sometimes no story at all.

Although the quality of journalism has seen improvement over the last few years, the entertainment and news website, Buzzfeed, is a frequent perpetrator of inflated and sometimes misleading headlines.

The headline for the lead Buzzfeed story on Dec. 31, 2014 read “Dead Cops Chant A Myth.” While the story did a good job of summarizing information about “black lives matter” protests across the country, the headline was misleading as well as grammatically confusing. The headline for the story has since been changed to “The Origins Of The Alleged ‘Dead Cops’ Chant” after Buzzfeed’s editor-in-chief Ben Smith was confronted by radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Even so, Buzzfeed has a fairly good track record of being honest with the content of its stories. There are some online news sources that intentionally produce false stories.

While popular sites like The Onion make it clear they are being satirical through fairly obvious humor, there are some sites that claim to be satirical, but sidestep the humor altogether.

Websites like National Report and Empire News may sound fairly legitimate, but they frequently produce headlines and stories that are completely false.

An Empire News story from March 18 is headlined “Unemployment Benefits To Be Eliminated Due To Poor Economy.” The poorly written story that accompanies it comes complete with fake statements and quotes. To young or ignorant internet users, a story such as this might actually seem believable.

Jesse Carey, an editor for Relevant Magazine, said these types of websites thrive on the growth of social media news.

“Sure, The Onion’s sharp commentary on current events still manages to trick its share of Facebook scrollers,” Carey said. “But there is an increasing collection of terribly dumb sites that are dedicated to fooling unsuspected readers with hoaxes, fabricated celebrity scandals and panic-inducing ‘news’ features.”

Because the internet is such a vast and open source of information, students must be careful about how they consume news. Breezing through headlines to stay informed may appeal to a busy schedule, but it can often prove unreliable. There are countless media outlets that spread rumors and false information, making it important for students to stay well-informed on which news sources to trust.