By Lynne Guey
Amid the deluge of websites claiming to be the “most knowledgeable” source on everything and anything known to mankind, it is understandable that today’s consumers complain of information overload.
Journalists, in particular, are faced with an overwhelming task: differentiating between the reliable and unreliable on today’s wacky World Wide Web– and make it in time for deadline.
Indeed, it is a wacky world out there. But sorting through the never-ending universe of web pages need not be difficult or time-consuming. In fact, some may even make your life easier.
The Webby Awards picks the best of the best from the billions of information authors out there. Dubbed the “Internet’s highest honor” by the New York Times, The Webby Awards honors excellence on the Internet in 4 categories: Websites, Interactive Advertising, Online Film and Video, and Mobile Web Sites. Winners are selected for recognition based on excellence in content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall experience.
But journalists looking for trustworthy sources of information want more than just a pretty web interface. Credibility is key. Can you trust a blog or online community for accurate information?
Using journalistic criteria, we determine which Webby winners can pass the journalist’s discerning eye. You may have heard of some, such as Mashable and Tumblr, but there’s more out there to explore.
Mashable is the world’s largest blog focused exclusively on Web 2.0 and Social Media news. It reviews new Web sites and services, making it a popular stop for techies, social media enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, and bloggers. It receives more than 25 million monthly page views, but does its popularity warrant credibility?
RELEVANCE: Tech reporters researching the latest social media apps will benefit from reading Mashable. It writes about the latest in social media trends, generating buzz among readers young and old these days. The “trending” section includes the most recent iPhone apps, technology announcements, and new releases at hot web start-ups. It was here that Mashable wrote about Facebook’s now ubiquitous “like” feature.
Mashable also has a weekly Top 10 on Twitter chart, which succinctly describes the top trending topics on Twitter for the week- a handy tool for any reporter keeping tabs on the evolving digital conversation.
ACCURACY: Mashable has received criticism on this front. In March 2010, it published a piece titled “PETA looks to score Sex.com.” DomainGang, a satire web site, had written a similar story before but also mentioned that a bogus meat company “Bullwhip” was fighting PETA for the Sex.com domain name. It turns out there was no Bullwhip, but Mashable (following DomainGang’s lead) still referred to the fake Bullwhip. Within 24 hours, Mashable recognized the error and updated its article with no reference to Bullwhip. To date, this is the only major public error Mashable has made but the incident still has critics calling Mashable a “content mill” who doesn’t take time to fact check.
TRANSPARENCY: Mashable contributors don’t keep their opinions to themselves. There is a consistent interjection of opinion when it comes to the functionality of iPhone apps, often with the author noting the “best” or “worst” parts of a new feature. However, this speaks to the audience’s needs; most readers come to Mashable searching for advice on new products. These opinion pieces are usually labeled as ‘reviews’, so reporters looking for straight facts should stray from these posts.
On the bright side, Mashable is good about attributing its information by linking all statements back to the original source. It also creates visually appealing and helpful infographics to summarize complicated web analytics.
ORIGINALITY: Mashable is largely criticized for its focus on quantity over quality. This is somewhat true. For example, in August 2009, they posted 158 posts alone about Twitter being down. Many critics say they churn out content for the sake of churning out content. No denying they’re successful in terms of numbers, but does that make for good quality?
THE VERDICT: If you’re looking for information that gets straight to the point about breaking news in social media and technology, Mashable is a quick reliable fix with pithy posts. It won both the Webby and People’s Choice Award for Best Business Blog, after all. But if you’re looking for more depth, ReadWriteWeb.com is another option.
If you’re an entertainment writer or reviewer, no website can ever replace the movie theater. Browsing the web for critiques of the latest films and CDs is like reading the Cliff Notes version of the real thing. But sometimes it helps to read what others are saying. That’s where Metacritic comes in.
Metacritic compiles reviews of movies, DVDs, music, television, and games from an extensive list of renowned publications including the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone. It then gives each product a “metascore,” a weighted average of all scores assigned by individual critics. Metascores range from 0-100; the higher the score, the better the overall review.
RELEVANCE: The most recent critic reviews are featured prominently on the home page. Aside from critic reviews, there’s also a section for user reviews. These feature new releases and instant access to the latest reviews.
HOW IT HELPS: Say you’re interested in gauging the reaction to “Toy Story 3.” When you click on the latest critic reviews for “Toy Story 3,” you’ll see a brief synopsis of the film with basic production facts, just like any other movie website. But here’s where Metacritic differs: the film’s “metascore” out of 100 is highlighted at the top. The color of the score indicates the film’s performance, with green indicating favorable reviews, yellow denoting mixed reviews, and red used unfavorably. User reviews are also listed, along with the general user score (out of 10).
Metacritic comes most in handy when it comes to compiling all major reviews in one place. If you scroll below the movie summary, a list of critics’ scores will appear with links to their complete review. It is compactly organized and conveniently located for every movie, DVD, TV show, and game reviewed on the site.
Keep in mind that Metacritic doesn’t write any reviews of its own. It merely compiles other reviews and averages the results into one metascore. Also, not all reviews are regarded equally. Metacritic assigns weights to each publication, giving more weight to the critics who they deem as “more detailed, more insightful, more articulate”. Thus, some publications count more in the Metascore calculation than others. Metacritic does not reveal how each of the different critics are weighted in their formula.
THE VERDICT: At the end of the day, if you’re a reviewer, your best bet is to go out and test the product yourself. But for a general idea of what the top critics are saying, Metacritic provides a clear snapshot.
Metacritic was the 2010 Webby Award Winner for Guides/Ratings/Reviews.
WebMD Consumer Health News
Known as one of the leading health portals in the United States, WebMD is a ubiquitous name for online health, but is it really all it’s advertised to be? “Better information, Better Health,” as its slogan goes?
WebMD’s home page places “Today’s Health News & Features” prominently within easy browsing view. At first glance, it appears to be a random mishmash of pop health topics, with a heavy emphasis on weight loss. However, the WebMD Health News homepage offers a more comprehensive selection of scientific articles. There are updates on the latest drugs approved/rejected by the FDA panel, study results, and new medical treatments.
Of course, WebMD still has mainstream appeal with popular self-diagnosis quizzes and healthy living tips. Experts can also find information in the WebMD section specifically for doctors. Near the bottom of the Health News homepage is a section with Advanced Reading for Professionals from CBS News and Medscape. For more in-depth coverage of health news, this section is worthwhile reading.
ACCURACY: WebMD’s staff consists of board-certified physicians, award-winning journalists, and trained community moderators. Writers from MedicineNet.com are frequent contributors to WebMD and comprise the Medical Editorial Board. They also have an independent medical review board which continuously reviews the site for accuracy and timeliness. To date, there are no reported major factual errors from WebMD.
TRANSPARENCY: Like all profitable websites, WebMD has sponsors and there is a section dedicated to paid messages. At the bottom of every webpage is a section called, “Health Solutions from our Sponsors”. However, these pages are clearly marked as “sponsored resources” and WebMD claims no affiliation with the content.
As for WebMD’s own content, it employs a full time staff of writers. Each article is also reviewed by a doctor who is part of the WebMD editorial team.
Perhaps the most accessible part of WebMD is its health community. Within its site, the WebMD Health Community allows members to participate in health discussions, contribute tips, share resources, and communicate with medical experts. There are two types of communities: webMD-moderated communities and member-created ones. The former features in-class experts, while the latter is self-moderated by WebMD members.
ORIGINALITY: WebMD’s mission statement says: “As serious as we are about credibility, we also know that at times, health information can and should be engaging, exciting, and entertaining.”
WebMD publishes three types of original content. One type deals with health “performance” – ie. self-diagnosis, better eating habits, etc. WebMD also publishes health research with straight facts and description of health conditions. Finally, there’s community support that’s made possible through the interactive features in its forums.
THE VERDICT: WebMD offers reliable information, for both doctors and inquiring patients.
WebMD Consumer Health News won the 2010 Webby Award, in addition to the People’s Voice Award. It also boasts a number of journalism awards for reporting. For a full list of WebMD’s accolades, go to: http://www.webmd.com/about-webmd-policies/awards
Politics is one of the most divisive of topics and its presence on the Internet is no exception. It is difficult to restrain opinion on controversial issues, but journalists looking for well-balanced political analysis can turn to Factcheck.org.
RELEVANCE: Factcheck.org, recipient of the 2010 Webby Award for Politics, concentrates on national legal and political issues. Detailed articles on its home page explore misleading news articles, viral emails, and ads. Some of the biggest distortions it has unraveled include Sarah Palin’s denial that she supported Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska and exaggerations regarding the health care bill. Each article runs like a case brief. Beginning with a succinct summary of the issue, a thorough analysis follows with attributed sources and hyperlinked statements. Excerpts from other published articles are posted to verify claims. At the conclusion of the article, every source is documented like a properly written research paper.
ACCURACY: Even fact-checkers need to be fact-checked. Factcheck.org is often criticized for a liberal bias, despite its well-documented sources and non-profit status. It doesn’t seek corporate sponsorship or appeal to advertisers. As part of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, it is required to maintain some intellectual heft.
TRANSPARENCY: Aside from offering full disclosure of its sources, Factcheck.org is also extremely interactive. Readers can submit questions on the AskFactCheck section. Factcheck reporters respond promptly with answers from documented sources. They even sometimes turn reader submissions about viral emails with distorted facts into stories.
ORIGINALITY: The only drawback to FactCheck is that it is not consistent with publication. Sometimes they can go days without posting. But this is to ensure that when something is posted, it will be accurate. FactCheck director Brooks Jackson says, “We post something when we’re sure it’s right. Sometimes it can take days to get to the bottom of a situation.”
THE VERDICT: A reliable resource for political investigative reporters who want a clear trail back to the original source, along with logical analysis. Local issues are rarely mentioned, though popular state issues that have gained national attention (ie. the Arizona immigration bill) are covered.
As the 2010 Webby Winner for Web Services and Applications, Tumblr is regarded as one of the easiest blogging platforms on the web to use. Whether it is for text, photos, or video, Tumblr makes it easy to publish with literally just a click of a button.
Seven options of publishing items line the top of every homepage. The most popular are text, photo, and video but quotes, links, and audio are also available.
Tumblr provides a variety of themes to choose from if you want to spice up the layout of your blog. Plain white and abstract is an option, but there are also more colorful designs available. All themes are simple and linear. Tumblr is known for its no frills blogging approach, which is why it may be one of the best choices for a personal blog.
With everyone going mobile, Tumblr has applications for iPhone, Blackberry, and a Bookmarket to quickly share things on the web.
Tags: web tools