(Pleasant Hill, California)
Today's stop on the ever popular "Age of Obama: A Reporter's Journey" book tour took me to the Rotary Club in Pleasant Hill, California.
One of the best questions came from John Hanecak, a Pleasant Hill City Councilman, who also teaches speech at nearby Diablo Valley College. He wanted to know how I judge internet material to be credible, especially a lot of chain emails that purport to be news. Here are my three tips:
1) Before forwarding an email that sounds truthful, but has seven different font sizes and three different colored letters (we all get these), ask yourself: "Would I be willing to turn this in as a term paper in college, or as a memo to my boss?"
2) What's the source? Good journalism should always cite the source of the material. Is it from the U.S. Geological Survey, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? Or is it from an unidentified or vague source, as so many internet article are.
3) Is there attribution? Who is quoted? Most news articles require attribution, e.g. Danville Mayor Bob Smith said, "The Town will be broke by Christmas." Even if the material is wrong, at least we know to whom the claim is attributed.
So many of these chain emails start with "My cousin Bob, who has a neighbor three doors down in Des Moines, who has a best friend, whose girl friend's uncle once worked at the Pentagon, says...." That is not attribution.
Ultimately, there is no sure-fire truth test. Sometimes people deliberately try to deceive. Sometimes people give bad information in good faith. People make mistakes. Newspapers and TV news are fallible enterprises, but--at least in theory--are supposed to have professional standards and ethics in trying to be accurate. The internet is the "Wild West," with no such rules. With mainstream news outlets on their deathbeds, the internet is a mixed bag of great information and out-and-out fraud.
One site I find very useful is www.snopes.com. It at least attempts to verify information; but it, too, has been the target of hoaxes and innuendo. Snopes does try to source and attribute its information so you know from where it came.
There's an old saying: "Let the buyer beware!" It's as useful in consuming information as it is in buying a used car.
Ten percent of my book sales are going to charity, including the Rotary Clubs! The Pleasant Hill Rotary is having a great St. Patrick's Day Party on Friday night, March 13. Two of my books will be up for auction! If you would like more information about tickets, just send me an email.
In the meantime, "Age of Obama: A Reporter's Journey with Clinton, McCain and Obama in the Making of the President 2008" is on sale by clicking the blue book button on the right side of this screen.