In one of our adult workshops about a year ago, we got on to the topic of credibility in blogs and of web news in general. One student raised his hand and said that he gets confused because you can’t trust everything you read on the web, but you can trust what’s in a newspaper, which is why he doesn’t read blogs or online news.
It’s true that you can’t trust everything you read online, and we at the LAMP encourage our students to ask questions rather than take something at face value. However, you also shouldn’t trust something in print just because it’s in print. In fact, I would argue that in some ways you should be less trusting of print news than of web news, all for a little thing called the hyperlink. When I read a news story online, I love it when every claim made by the author is backed up with a hyperlink which brings me to the source of the information, because it helps me make my own decisions about what I’m reading.
Let’s make an example: Suppose Jimmy Journalist claims that yesterday the sky was green and the grass was blue in Boise, Idaho. To me this sounds crazy, and I’m inclined to ignore it, until I click on the hyperlink attached to the claim and see for myself that the source he used is a highly respected professor who is able to explain, from a scientific perspective, how and why this phenomenon is possible. I still don’t have to believe it, but I have respect for the fact that the journalist made his reporting transparent enough that I can check things out for myself. Imagine if William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer had to use hyperlinks when writing about the destruction of the Maine.
Therein lies part of the problem–nobody is required to use hyperlinks today. Most articles I read in online versions of print newspapers (like the New York Times) do not link back to their sources. This makes sense sometimes, as not all sources are from the Internet, but in most cases there is something online that can be used to back up a claim. As far as I know, it’s never been standard practice for newspapers to include complete bibliographies for every article I print, but I wish it was. Until then, long live the hyperlink, and journalism that makes use of it.