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ENGL 100 - Lawson: Welcome

Fallacy assignment: now leaving the safety and security of library databases for the wild web

For the fallacy assignment, we will leave the safety and security of library databases for the wild web. You have learned how to search for scholarly sources in library databases. Now you have the challenge of evaluating popular sources and websites. Ask these questions about the website you are examining for your assignment:

  • Find the organization or website author's mission statement or objective. What does it tell you? What is goal of the website? To persuade? To substantiate claims? To inform?
  • Can you detect a bias in the website? Do you consider it liberal? Conservative? Moderate? Radical? If so, what is it about the language or information that leads you to think so?
  • Who wrote the material on the website? A nonprofit organization? A university? A branch of the military? A business or individual?

Make a research appointment

The library is open every day except Sunday and there is always a librarian available. Just walk in and ask for help at the reference desk. If you want to be sure you'll have enough time with a librarian, make an appointment ahead of time using the form below.

New York Times access through database

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Examine the publication or website you are reading for bias

Although people disagree with how bias in these publications and news outlets are characterized, this illustration shows how both liberal and conservative viewpoints range from moderate to radical to irresponsible.

Copyright 2018 adfontesmedia Used with permission from Vanessa Otero.

What makes a publication fair or accurate?

Remain skeptical about what you read and use your own judgment. Some news sites may look more reliable than others. Sensational headlines put off most readers looking for news, but be sure to read the fine print on professional-looking sites as well.

Look at the website for the Associated Press, an international news-gathering organization based in New York. On any given day, you will see headlines and sentences about national and international governments and officials, weather, sports, arts, and other topics. Be aware that even publications with professional-looking websites with low-key headlines make mistakes.

The New York Times, highly respected but with an acknowledged center left bias, routinely publishes corrections amounting to most of a page in print versions. The fact that the original story may well contain errors does not impinge on their reputation as "the paper of record" because the publication runs correction notices in a timely manner. Regardless, NYT readers would do well to be aware that the story there are reading may well contain errors. The byword in journalism is that the correction rarely catches up with the story, which is less true now with digital publishing.

By contrast, National Enquirer covers celebrities - actors and other famous people - usually at their lowest point, often when they are in conflict with colleagues or spouses. Is this news? It is to some, so it depends on your taste. Many news readers find the tabloid's methods distasteful, but the Enquirer does have a record of breaking stories respected media won't touch. Their headlines sensationalize the most dramatic aspect of articles, making them questionable as a credible news source. It's often asked, if the National Enquirer is so questionable, why don't more people sue them for libel? Read about why that is - and why widely beloved and respected comedian Carol Burnett prevailed in a rare libel suit - in this New York Times article.

A skeptical reader like you will want a source and a statement to support this divergent viewpoint, and here it is, from Jack Shafer, former editor of Slate online news magazine:

Yes, the Enquirer tackles mostly tacky and sordid subjects and treats them breathlessly, but if you correct for stylistic overkill, you find a publication that is every bit as accurate as mainstream media. I would, however, advise Enquirer readers to take all anonymous quotes they find in the tabloid’s pages with a large shaker of salt. Maybe with a bag of salt. (Of course, I have the same bias against anonymous quotes in the mainstream press.)

Conclusion: Sensational headlines skew what may otherwise be a factual article and carefully researched and edited newspaper articles may contain an error that won't be corrected until days later, a fact many readers miss.

Documentaries and videos from a library database you can use in your research

Search for documentaries on your topic in the Films on Demand database. Here are some keywords that may prove useful with embedded links:

How to cite videos from Films on Demand database in MLA

Template

Author. "Title." Title of container (Films on Demand database), Other contributors (translators or editors), Version (edition), Number (vol. and/or no.), Publisher, Publication Date, Location (URL, DOI or permalink). Date of Access (if applicable).

Example
ABC News Production, producer. Measles Outbreak Ignites Fresh Vaccine Debate. Films on Demand, 2015, ezproxy.plsinfo.org/login?url=https://fod.infobase.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=114738&xtid=95268. Accessed May 23, 2019.