Jukes, E. (2008), "Consider the Source: A Critical Guide to 100 Prominent News and Information Sites on the Web", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 42 No. 3, pp. 317-320. https://doi.org/10.1108/00330330810892730
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
A recent report, entitled Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future (CIBER, 2008) has come to the conclusion that, whilst young people, (the “Google generation”), demonstrate an ease and familiarity with computers, they lack the critical and analytical skills to assess the information that they find on the web. This assertion will come as no surprise to anyone working in schools, further education, or even, to some extent, in higher education. One is well aware that many young (and some not so young) students regard the web as Encyclopaedia Gallactica and accept uncritically the first web site that Google throws at them in the course of their search for knowledge!
I was therefore delighted to have to opportunity to review Consider the Source: A Critical Guide to 100 Prominent News and Information Sites on the Web. This, I fervently hoped would prove to be an exemplar and guide to the exercising of critical judgement on web site content – possibly a book to be used in tutorials on web searching. After all, the authors (James F. Broderick and Darren W. Miller) are former newspaper reporters and editors, and one of them (Broderick) teaches journalism.
The Introduction sounded very promising. The authors explained that, more and more, web sites tailor their content to meet “some demographic, political, or social agenda” and that the book examines which sites are “ideologically driven” and which “pride themselves on their ‘neutrality’”. Additionally, the book would examine the best places to go to find breaking news or insightful commentary, and whether political web sites are objective in discussing the news of the day.
The hundred entries, alphabetically arranged, begin with Agence France‐Presse afp.com, and end with Yahoo! News news.yahoo.com. Each web site entry comprises: an “Overview” – which focuses on the web site's origins and development; “What You'll Find There” – which looks at the site's main features; “Why You Should Visit”; “Keep This In Mind” – various lesser known aspects of the web site and its history; and “Off The Record” which considers various other minor bits of information about the web site. Finally there is a rating out of five which is supposed to be an indicator of the quality of the web site.
The “Overview” for the entry for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) news (http://bbc.co.uk) says that just the mention of the BBC summons a “certain image” (to Americans) of paternalistic journalism, “a static‐punctuated sobriety amid the noise of war and riot”. The overview goes on “perhaps because it's so very British, the BBC inevitably brings to mind those well‐worn clichés so many Yanks have about the Brits: tweed‐suited patriarchs enjoying brandy by the hearth, radio tuned to the BBC as the newsreaders exhort in their best ‘stiff‐upper‐lip’ style. It strikes one as all so very proper”. But they go on to say that the BBC news site is thoroughly modern in all its best ways, and not “your father's BBC”, although it remains grounded in the BBC's long tradition of seriousness and comprehensiveness. Under “What you'll find there” it is pointed out that the BBC news is graphically clear and simple and that the stories are arranged according to importance at the moment and the region of the globe (Africa, Middle East, The Americas). In the rating, five out of five, (and the BBC scores best out of the whole book), the comment is “the BBC remains the benchmark against which most other news reporting could be measured” with “the depth of coverage in areas that many news organisations couldn't even pronounce – let alone send a reporter to – is impressive and laudable”. Under “Keep this in mind” it is pointed out that the BBC “is not immune to charges of political bias and journalistic massaging and that it has been assailed by critics, mostly on the political right, both in Britain and in the USA for its promotion of an Anti‐Western ideology”. A little titbit in “Off the record” notes that the father of radio, Guglielmo Marconi, was one of the founders of the BBC and, that the very first broadcast by the BBC, on 14 November 1922 originated from Marconi's London studio.
It seems, that, for most Americans, Canada truly qualifies as a foreign country. (Please note that this is a quote from the book – and not the opinion of this reviewer!) Apparently US residents would be “hard pressed” to name the Prime Minister of Canada, list the country's provinces or identify its most popular cultural exports (Alex Trebeck, Dan Ackroyd, and the rock band Rush) “Canada remains shrouded in mystery”. However the best place for Americans to educate themselves about their neighbours is the web site of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBCwww.cbc.ca). Whilst it is clear that the web site obviously looks at the biggest news stories in Canada, revolving mostly around the Canadian parliament, the Supreme Court and the oil industry, as well as hockey stories and reporting about the Canadian football league, the art scene in Montreal and Quebec, the news of interest to hunters and fishers, there is also comprehensive, updated news reports from international bureaus in the Middle East, London, Paris and Washington DC. Under “Keep This In Mind”, for Cable News Network (CNN‐ www.cnn.com) comes a warning, that “CNN is corporate with a capital C” and “not known for challenges to orthodoxy” so that the tough questions that make journalism exciting are often left to others.
Fox News (www.foxnews.com), launched by Rupert Murdoch in October 1996, is “a detriment to the overall health of the news media” with the web site “as loud, visually speaking, as the shouting pundits who fill its channel's line up”. The authors rate it at half a point and say “unless you want neo‐con spin and Republican‐driven opinion, Fox News.com belongs in the no‐visit zone”.
It is always difficult to do justice in a relatively brief review to any encyclopaedia type of book where there are numerous entries. Clearly there is not the space to list every single entry. Other sites (taken at random) include Al Jazeera, allAfrica, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Bloomberg, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Hispanic News, Jerusalem Post, Mother Jones, NASA, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Enquirer, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, The Smoking Gun, Sports Illustrated, Sydney Morning Herald, Time, The Times of London, United Nations (UN), USA Today, Voice of America (VOA), Washington Post, Washington Times, WhiteHouse.gov, and Wired News.
I did not like the way the ratings (out of five) were presented. I do think that it is a useful device, but my objection is to the facetious line of text accompanying it, which would be more suited to a tabloid newspaper. Here are some examples of ones that make me cringe! For Mother Jones (www.motherjones.com) “the mother of downtrodden people everywhere” the comment is “visit mother often? You should!” National Geographic (www.nationalgeographic.com) rating says “explore the world – without ever getting out of your chair”. Other examples “like sharing a room with everyone else in the world – and their debate coach” (United Nations (www.un.org)) “the news of the world rendered in the King's English” (The Times of London (www.timesonline.co.uk)), and “In a world saturated with pop culture, Rotten Tomatoes keeps it reel” (Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com)).
The book ends with an Afterword, in which the authors briefly sum up and draw readers' attention to their supporting web site at www.TheReportersWell.com and invite readers to visit the site and share any comments. There is an appendix which ranks the hundred sites – the winners being BBC, Christian Science Monitor, CBS, Guardian Unlimited and National Public Radio – all with five points, and the losers being (not surprisingly) Fox News and Rush Limbaugh (www.rushlimbaugh.com) “an American conservative who apparently once mocked Hillary Clinton as a femi‐Nazi” with half a point each. It seems that “to the (American) political left and its corps of true believers. Limbaugh symbolizes everything that's wrong with the (American) political process today”.
I really wish that the authors had not made a commitment to “100 prominent news and information sites on the web” and had just settled for “Some prominent news and information sites on the web”. It is just that I feel that the book runs out of steam in some areas. You can almost feel the authors saying to each other, “We've done 80 – Can you think of another 20?”
The book is well laid out – with always perfectly clear web site screen images – far better than some titles where one needs a magnifying glass. The cover is of an attractive design in eye‐catching red and black.
Consider the Source is written strictly from an American perspective, to include the humour, the politics, and the political slant – I have tried to let the book itself do the talking on this aspect. I had understood that the authors' intentions were for the book to be objective, but perhaps you, like me, may feel that I have misunderstood something along the way. I am afraid the sad truth is that if you are a non‐American reader (like me) then you are likely to feel somewhat excluded – if not quite foreign!
Like Fox Mulder in the X‐Files “I want to believe”. In my case, I want to believe that there is a book out there that will guide young people towards being able to use critical judgement when assessing web sites. Whilst some may find Consider the Source a pointer in the right direction, it did not really meet my expectations.
CIBER ( 2008 ), Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future, study commissioned by the British Library and JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee), available at: www.bl.uk/pdf/googlegen.pdf .