Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Secondary Sources: THE WARZONE

How do we sort out which information is trustworthy in the online world? And does using online information make our jobs harder?

For my blog, I have a pre-post policy to keep my news accurate:

-News must be from an official source. (Granted, an "official source" in music writing is often a press release, but it's cold fact, nonetheless, selling something or not).

-If it is not posted by an official source, I must be able to find at least three trustworthy sources to back the information before I believe it.

-NEVER trust a rogue statement from a Twitter or Tumblr user floating in space without a link. It's PROBABLY a rumor.

-Avoid stories with "facts" that cannot be confirmed at all costs.

I don't think it takes a genius to know better than to trust something on first-read. However, when a source is perceived as "reliable," people do, and chaos blossoms through the online world.

For example, the U.K.'s NME is a magazine of which many think favorably. However, in recent months, the magazine's website has snipped quotes from the band upon which I primarily report to make fear-stirring implications out of statements that, taken at their own value and not condensed, definitely were not saying what the magazine made them imply.

Not cool, NME.

There was an easy way to figure out the original quotes (NME had used secondary sources): I searched for them! It's ridiculously simple, but the online reader is both lazy and apt to jump to Twitter and re-post the incorrect information.

As a person who oversees some communities within a music fanbase, it makes my life Hell. I'm always sure to go right back at the offending spinners with the facts, tell them why they're wrong, and - if possible - make them change it. It feels like war sometimes.

Check out what I call my battle process in this online world.

In the aforelinked (I know it's not a word, but it should be) blog entry, I describe the process I went through in tracing back sources to find out how misinformation was spread.

I found a misquote on a website which had not linked to the secondary source from which it had gotten information. Ah-ha! Indicator one of mischief: quotations that you know the source you're reading didn't get itself without attribution to the source that actually did get them.

Eventually, I spoke to the writer and traced it to another trusted music magazine that should know better, Metal Hammer.

Moral of the story: Don't read anything just once. Keep looking. Even magazines which post online content seem to have a disregard for truth in favor of drama and hits.

-Cassie Whitt


  1. I definitely see the value of making sure to find out whether a source is valid or not, though I am in favor of the wide spectrum of opinion and boundary pushing that un-official blogs (such as this one) and wikipedia can offer. I think that more important than disregarding a source because it is not legitimate is the fact that you follow up with what they say or have to offer with more research of your own. The facts and potential stories that are out there on these types of blogs and websites are invaluable to the field of journalism, and just because they may not have built up the cred that major news sites or sources have to offer, does not mean they are not a legitimate way to obtain facts. They can be the door to the process, while the hallway to the result may be someplace else.

  2. I have a feeling you'd make a good news editor somewhere someday. I have a feeling your ethics when it comes to fact-checking might be better than quite a few working journalists out there today (though I hope I'm incorrect). Nevertheless, it's an admirable quality to possess.

    I think there's only one thing that infuriates me more than getting facts wrong, and that thing is sort of a subset of fact checking in a way: spelling someone's name wrong. I cannot believe how much this actually still tends to happen at widely-read online publications (including, regrettably, the location of my last internship). Drives me cray cray.

  3. AHAHA I absolutely HATE when people make typos.

    Once, an editor at a publication misspelled my last name. SMH.