The Future of Journalism

            I’m a little bit ambivalent towards the future of journalism.  For an industry and an art that has so much potential due in large part to the wealth of technology at journalists’ disposal, there has been a mishandling of this valuable tool. 

            Just take a look back at some of the major reporting blunders in some of the most important stories in recent memory. 

            Rep. Gabby Giffords was pronounced dead when she really wasn’t, the brother of the eventually accused shooter in Newtown was first accused as the killer of many innocent children, and how can we forget about what happened in Boston at the Marathon just a few weeks ago; plenty of reporting miscues there.

            Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram allow not only journalists, but anyone for that matter, to post breaking news as it happens.  No longer does the world have to wait for the morning newspaper to hear of the top stories from the day before or even an hour ago. 

            Breaking news is always at our fingertips, and we can get it via whichever outlet we so choose, and whenever we choose.  But, this has caused a number of problems in reporting, which in turn brings up even more ethical dilemmas.

            How many mistakes are too much?  When will editors finally start emphasizing accuracy over quickness?  There must be some sort of happy medium that can be implemented.

            Unfortunately, I don’t see anything changing.  There are far too many news organizations out there now that are all in competition with one another; competition centered on being first, rather than being exact. 

            Hopefully, as more reporting blunders begin to pile up, things will change.  Journalism is one of the most powerful professions out there as journalists are able to shape the minds of all those who follow, but it has to be done right.  Journalism must be practiced with great accuracy, precision, and care, but if journalists aren’t doing that, then what in fact are we doing? 

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Against All Odds: Victoria Conrad

To some students, the aspects that define the college lifestyle include studying, large lecture halls, and heavy alcohol drinking. For others, college is a total different experience because they cannot participate in the same activities due to their disabilities. Walking to class, eating independently, or even opening up a door to their lecture hall; these everyday routines cannot be completed by many disabled students, and are taken for granted everyday by those without disabilities.

1,600 students registered with disabilities are currently enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  These disabilities range anywhere from attention deficit disorder to medical and psychological disabilities, and can have a dramatic impact on a college student’s experience.

Victoria Conrad, 22, is disabled student at UMass who suffers from CP, or cerebral palsy.  CP is a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by injury or abnormal development in the immature brain, most often before birth, according to Mayo Clinic.  Victoria can think, learn, and communicate just as any other person can, however, she does not have control of her muscles.  She is in a wheelchair, and such things as feeding and dressing herself, showering, and walking to class are simply not a possibility for her.

Fortunately for Conrad and other disabled students alike, whether their disability is as severe or not, there are a number of support groups both on and off-campus that can help.

UMass Disability Services deals with all sorts of issues on campus regarding students with disabilities, mainly being accessibility and mobility to classes.

“The primary way we provide access is we allow the students to have priority enrollment,” said Associate Director of Operations at Disability Services, Benjamin Ostiguy.

Allowing disabled students the first opportunity to enroll in courses gives them the chance to enroll in courses that are in buildings with the greatest level of accessibility.

“Regardless of whatever courses they choose, that gives us the opportunity to start working on getting them access to wherever they need to go,” added Ostiguy.

The extra time given to Disability Services allows people like Ostiguy to make arrangements for the students, like relocating a class from a partially accessible building to a fully accessible building.

UMass has a color-coded map that ranks all of their buildings from partially accessible (yellow) to fully accessible (blue).  While most of the campus buildings are partially accessible, the handful of buildings that are currently in construction will all be fully accessible to disabled students.

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The Architectural Access Board is a state-run organization that sets building codes that deal with accessibility for people who have disabilities.

“Not every building (in Massachusetts) is required to be fully accessible, but overtime they are supposed to improve,” said Naomi Goldberg, Assistant Director of Client Services at the Massachusetts State Disability Agency.  “New buildings have really stringent requirements, and we deal with older buildings as they renovate that requires them to become more in compliance with the current set of regulations.”

Since UMass is a public institution, it is easy for the state agency to accommodate their students.  Private schools, according to Goldberg, are much more difficult to deal with, as they are privately funded and do they have to abide by state regulations.

“UMass is smart,” said Community Services Director at the Stavros Center for Independent Living, Joseph Tringali.  “They deal with the Amherst Disability Group, who come to us to review plans for construction.”

We can nip it in the bud if need be, if there are any red flags in terms of construction and accessibility issues,” Tringali added.

Stavros, while not directly related to the university, is an advocacy group out of Amherst that serves as another possible outlet for students with disabilities.  Tringali, a UMass graduate, supervises the implementation of direct service contacts and coordinates housing advocacy and housing initiatives at Stavros.

Over the past 20 years, according to Tringali, accessibility has improved a great deal.

“Twenty years ago, kids with disabilities weren’t getting into high school because of accessibility,” he said.  “They weren’t even getting into grade school, they would just stay home.”

1973 marked the year that major improvements began to take precedence.  The Rehabilitation Act was passed, mandating that if any organization received federal money, they were required to become accessible.  These organizations were also required to provide accommodations to employees and any other person receiving services from that organization, according to Tringali.

Classroom lengths were extended, wheelchair ramps were made wider, those with disabilities were allowed extra time to take exams, and more disabled parking was created.  All of these new modifications made higher education a possibility.

Still, however, there is work to be done, and Stavros is one organization that is leading the cause.

“We try to educate local legislators about how a potential proposed piece of legislature could help or hurt those with disabilities if passed,” said Tringali.  “Sometimes new construction simply isn’t technically feasible, or represents a financial hardship.”

Just this year in particular, Ostiguy has noticed an increase in student complaints.

“It’s come to my attention that some of the buildings that we thought were reasonably accessible, were not nearly as accessible as we thought.”

Ostiguy reflected on a recent incident where a disabled student came to him describing some challenges getting to a particular class.  Ostiguy then escorted the student to the class at Goessman Hall, one day, to get a first-hand account of what the student had been experiencing all semester.

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“We got to the building and she basically had to hit the trigger pad with her head, and then by the time she backed up in her wheelchair to position herself to go through the door, the door shut,” said Ostiguy. “The only way she could possibly get through was to sort of plow through with her chair, but that isn’t ideal.”

While Ostiguy’s first hand account prompted Disability Services to change the student’s classroom, a major flaw still remains.  Ostiguy would never have known of the student’s difficulties had she not spoken up for herself because the physical plant map showed the building as fully accessible.

Looking to the future, Ostiguy says the new buildings under construction on campus will fully attempt to accommodate students with disabilities.

“Not all the buildings on campus are accessible, but most of them that aren’t, aren’t for classroom use,” said Ostiguy.  “We are, however, in the process of building better accessible classrooms on campus.”

A Free Spirit: Chantal Swiszcz’s Journey From The Coast of Spain to the Pioneer Valley

Growing up on a naval base in the small town of Rota on the southern coast of Spain, located just 30 minutes from Cadiz, UMass senior Chantal Swiszcz, probably never thought she’d end up playing college tennis in Amherst, Massachusetts, a rural town in Western Mass.’s Pioneer Valley.

For Chantal’s father, however, the thought of his daughter playing Division I tennis for his hometown Minutemen, represented something much more.

Stanley Swiszcz grew up in Chicopee, Mass., just south of Amherst after his family had moved to America during the Holocaust in the mid-1940s.  Mr. Swiszcz thought that playing college tennis in the states signified a tremendous opportunity for his daughter, and subsequently set out on a relentless effort to get his daughter recruited by UMass coach, Judy Dixon.

“Her father chased me around from match-to-match when Chantal was in high school in Spain, and kept telling me that he had a daughter who would like to come to UMass,” said Dixon.

There was, however, a slight problem.  Chantal was not nationally ranked in her native country, nor had she had any prior tournament experience, nor even a tennis record.

“She was going to be a hard sell to any program because she didn’t have a background that we could sort of look at,” added Dixon.

But Mr. Swiszcz was unrelenting.  He followed Dixon’s Minutewomen wherever they had a match.  No matter if the match was just a few towns over in Amherst, or a two-hour drive to Boston University, Stanley was there.

Finally, his hard work paid off.  He told Coach Dixon that Chantal was moving back to America, making her a possible in-state student at UMass.  This meant that Dixon could save nearly $10,000 by offering a full scholarship to Chantal because her family would be living in Massachusetts.

Eventually, Dixon looked over the recruiting tape that Chantal and her father had made and decided to offer the young woman from Rota, a full tennis scholarship.

“I honestly had no clue what college athletics was about because they don’t exist at universities in Spain,” said Chantal, “but my dad really wanted me to experience college tennis because he thought it would be a great life experience, so I took his word for it and accepted the scholarship since I really love the sport.”

Chantal’s career at UMass has been nothing short of amazing.  The senior has compiled a 56-27 record with junior doubles partner, Yuliana Motyl, while netting a 17-4 record this past spring.

“She is probably the finest doubles player that we’ve had in all my 20 years that I’ve been coaching here,” said Dixon.

After missing her freshman year due to injuries, Chantal’s win-total puts her at No.7 on the all-time win’s list for UMass women’s tennis, a remarkable accomplishment considering she’s only played three seasons in Amherst.

Looking to the future, Chantal is still undecided on her plans for after college.  While her fallback plan is to live in Boston for a year, Chantal hopes to attend graduate school back in Spain, mainly located in the areas of Madrid, Barcelona, or Sevilla, to study immunology.

Regardless of what she decides, Chantal is confident that her experiences in Amherst and the relationships that she’s created along the way will help mold a successful future.

“I don’t think I could have done it without Yuli and coach Dixon,” said Swiszcz.  “Yuli and I always give each other all that we have, while coach makes sure you never give up, and has definitely made me not only a good player, but a good person.”

The Ethical Dilemma Behind SEO

            Search Engine Optimization, SEO, is a tool that helps companies in their advertising by increasing the positioning of websites in search engine results via optimization of keyword density and designing links on the site.  This creates more “hits” or user visits, which in turn increases the popularity of the company itself.

            Although SEO can certainly help increasing brand awareness, there are some ethical dilemmas that are brought about when using the product.  SEO will essentially do anything in its power to enhance the visibility of a site, whether it be by creating junk articles just to create visibility in a Google search, or by using false keywords to help drive users to content, in the case of the “ground zero mosque” dilemma. 

            The story centers on, “the site of a proposed Islamic center and mosque that is not at ground zero, but two blocks away in a busy commercial area,” yet, some sites are still using “ground zero mosque” as their keyword for better search engine optimization, although the practice is unethical.

            “It may be inaccurate, but if that’s what the public is searching for, then using it speaks to what they seek,” Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, explained in an email. “Once they arrive they can be further educated.”

            The major problem here is that “having the words in the exact order of the phrase that people are searching for, and putting that in the HTML title tag, is exactly what improves their Google ranking,” Sullivan said.

            This creates an ethical dilemma for news organizations.  In order to compete with their competitors, they sometimes have to choose between being ethical and finishing last, or being unethical and finishing first.  I suppose it’s a question of morals, and what really matters to the company.

            In today’s digital age where breaking news is attainable instantaneous virtually no matter where you are at any given time, the competition between news organizations is heightened.  This accounts for a greater deal of reporting errors that results from the fear of not being the first one to break a particular story.  Pick any major news story over the past two or three years and there is probably at least one significant reporting blunder to go along with it (Gabby Giffords, New Town, or even this past week in the Boston Marathon Bombings).

            While new organizations can create ethical guidelines for their reporters to follow, the truth of the matter is that this dilemma simply will not go away.  With technology always growing, the instantaneous nature of news reporting will only worsen. 

Lifestyles Radio: A Terrific Multimedia Piece by the NY Times

            I recently watched a multimedia piece on the New York Times website featuring Lifestyles for the Disabled in Staten Island.  The piece centers on their vocational program that gives disabled adults the opportunity to practice their communicating skills on the radio.  Corey Kilgannon wrote the article, while Emma Cott provided the visuals. 

            The New York Times does a great job of distinguishing between the two elements of the multimedia piece, ultimately staying away from any sort of boredom on the part of its viewers. 

            The video focuses on the basics of what Lifestyles for the Disabled is, giving a brief overview of the programs motive, while also giving some background of a few of the participants in the program. 

            Some elements of the video that stood out to me in particular were its use of L and R cuts, as well as very good transitions and b-roll.  One part that stood out to me was around the two-minute mark that showed a company van traveling from their own studio to WSIA, at the College of Staten Island.  While the b-roll was playing, Cott was explaining how the program has transformed over its two-year existence, from merely a podcast just for family and friends to now a radio broadcast show on WSIA-88.9. 

            Another part that stood out to me in the video was an effective use of transition around the 1-minute mark.  Over some nice b-roll of participants speaking on the radio in Lifestyles own studio, Cott is explaining that most of their members on the air have autism spectrum disorder.  This clip is then followed by Burak Uzun, Lifestyles Media Department Supervisor, explaining the disorder and how the spectrums differ. 

            The article titled, “Autistic and on the Airwaves,” does a great job of giving the more in-depth details about the program as well as highlighting each individual member and what their personality brings to the radio station.

            Those diagnosed with autism usually have extensive knowledge of a particular subject that seems almost uncanny to the average person.

            Michael Halbreich, for example, has a strange ability to instantly remember the day of the week that any date in history fell on.

            Kilgannon also goes into great detail of how the program has evolved over time.  At first, Lifestyle’s Radio Host, Joel Richardson, was simply looking for a place for disabled adults to get a break from their jobs, and build confidence in their communicating skills through podcasts.  After Lifestyles installed their very own radio studio, Richardson then realized that some of the podcasts were actually really funny, and began looking for a station to take his show on the air. Just this year, Richardson’s wish was granted, as every Tuesday from 1-2pm, three members of Lifestyles are on the air talking about subjects that they are interested in on WSIA-88.9

            Richardson admits that some participants need great assistance in writing their script, while others create all of their own content, a tribute to the wide spectrum of autism. The shows are far from perfect, but it does develop delayed adults into public life.

            “It gives participants valuable cognitive stimulation, and practice at understanding how people are perceiving them, and guides them to stay on topic, not to just serve the conversation,” said Lorraine Millan, behaviorist at Lifestyles.

The Aftermath Of Blarney Blowout: A Town and University’s Attempt to Control Off-Campus Partying

Since last spring, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been working on an initiative in coalition with the town of Amherst as well as the Amherst Police Department to take more of a proactive approach in the taming of the out-of-control off-campus party scene.

This year’s Blarney Blowout, the all-day affair in which students celebrate St. Patrick’s Day a week early before spring break, seemed to expedite the process.

“The problem now is that (off-campus parties) are becoming larger in scope, becoming more violent,” said Amherst Police Captain Christopher Pronovost.  “It’s begun to take a more serious toll on the students and on members of the community.”

According to Director of Media Relations at UMass, Ed Blaguszewski, two additional ambulance staff will be on duty until graduation, amounting to an estimated $40,000 in addition to the $300,000 the university already pays annually to the town in ambulance services.

Consequently, the university has since come to an agreement with the town to run patrol cars in-and-out of the major party areas on weekend nights that historically have caused problems.  These areas include Phillips St., Pufton Village, as well as the Townehouses, according to Captain Pronovost. The new forces will cost the university an extra $6,000.

“It’s Collaborative,” said Town Manager, John Musante, when describing the town’s relationship with UMass.  “I consider the university a partner with the community where we’re both heavily invested in each other’s success.”

Musante added, “There’s on-going efforts with our staff of 18 members including university leadership, landlords, community members, town staff, and the select board.”

While a more hands-on approach may appear to be a step in the right direction to university and town officials, many students believe otherwise.

“A better approach would be allowing things to happen, and then maybe mediating it, by having officers out so that the fear is there,” said junior Ian Hunter.  “You’ve got to work with us, not directly against us”

Perhaps a good omen for students wishing their voices were heard, Musante believes strong interaction with the student body is vital to creating a harmonious relationship between the town of Amherst and the university.

“I am 110 percent in agreement with the students,” said Musante.  “There is much more we can do, and I’m encouraged by some of the outreach we’ve had.  I’ve had some good dialogue with town officials and student government leadership.”

Because the heightened services are set to be used only until the end of the semester, both the town of Amherst and university officials have plans to reach an agreement for the long haul.

“We’ve had discussions about trying to develop a walking path for students that really is clear, so that they do not walk through neighborhoods, and through downtown, but would traverse back through the main thorough fairs back to campus, creating less noise,” said Blaguszewski.

While any number of initiatives or coalitions can be put in place to help solve the issue at hand, first year Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy contends a lot of the weight falls simply on the students, themselves.

“Ultimately it’s on the students,” said Chancellor Subbaswamy.  “Student-to-student interaction is the best possible way to prevent these sort of things from happening.”

The Chancellor added, “Students need to spread the word that these types of activities are not okay, and realize that they have a great deal at stake ensuring the reputation of the university.”

Although Pronovost agrees with the Chancellor that rowdy behavior can always be restrained through student-to-student interaction, the Captain would like to see UMass offer some sort of alternative to students of age, giving them a place to drink safely on campus.  The problem stems, according to Pronovost, from when students are forced to relocate off-campus due to regulations on campus.

“Students come off-campus, most of the time in residential neighborhoods where there are families living there,” said Pronovost.  “These homes are not equipped to handle hundreds-of-thousands-of-people, and it becomes a safety issue.”

This past weekend marked the first in which the new restrictions by the town and university were put into play.  After quickly being kicked out of a large gathering on Hobart Lane, as students attempted to resurrect the old, “Hobart Hoedown,” seven policemen seized control of yet another “quad party” at the Townehouses around 1pm, exiting some 400-500 UMass students out of the area that had made the trek over from Hobart.

Police cruisers continually drove in-and-out of the major party areas throughout the day, making sure everything was under control, and that large groups of students would not return to those areas.

“I don’t think they’re wrong for trying to prevent large scale parties, but trying to prevent any partying at all is kind of ridiculous,” said junior Mike Loughery.  “It’s the first really nice day out in a while, kids are just trying to enjoy the spring day, and they aren’t letting us.”

While some students may not be particularly happy with the way the day turned out, it’s simply something they’re going to have to get used to, as the town of Amherst and UMass continually work together to crack down on off-campus partying.

Aside

In Chapter 9, Briggs discuses the data-driven world of journalism and how journalists can best use technology to their advantage.

             Because we are always connected to the Internet via one handheld device or another, there is never an excuse for having a lack of information.  The only problem now is how to best organize the information we have accumulated for a story. 

            David Allen coined the phrase, “getting things done,” to help journalists streamline their personal lives.  Organizing your email in bulk, rather than one-by-one every time an email is sent to you, helps journalists stay on task instead of being distracting by incoming messages.  Saving information to a “cloud” is also helpful as it allows you to access data anytime, anywhere, as long as there is Internet access.  Journalists should always remember to save their most important files twice, in case of a computer crash. 

            Data-driven reporting has really taken off since the advent of highly innovated “smart” devices that allow reporters to organize their data on file, rather than on paper.  Computer databases can hold a wealth information that is easily accessible to anyone.  ESPN ‘s website holds countless of statistics in its database ranging anywhere from player salaries and stats, to a team’s archives of wins and losses from previous years.  If I ever want to know a particular stat, I can go straight to ESPN.com and have that stat within seconds. 

            Another form of technology that is changing the game is location-aware technology.  It allows journalists to communicate with their audience in a more personalized level.  Location-aware technology can deliver news, information and even advertising to tailed neighborhoods, towns and regions.  I have already noticed this form of technology in terms of advertising on social networking sites such as Facebook.  Facebook will tailor advertisements displayed to me depending on my likes and dislikes.  I will look to the bottom or side of my laptop screen and see an advertisement for Boston Celtics tickets or for a show of one of my favorite musicians.  It really is amazing.  Everyday, journalism is becoming more personalized with the way in which writers can interact with specific types of readers. 

Tow Zone: Lack of Campus Parking Leads to Unrest Amongst UMass Amherst Students

In June 2011, The University of Massachusetts Amherst began construction of a new $186.5 million residential and teaching complex directly across from Boyden Athletic Fields in the center of campus to serve its Commonwealth Honors College. The complex will include 600 first-year beds, 900 upper-class beds, nine classrooms, two faculty apartments, four staff apartments, and an Administration and Student Services building.

It plans to open in the fall of 2013, welcoming in 3,000 Honors College students enrolled in 88 majors.

“This new complex will serve as a visible representation of the commitment of this campus to academic excellence and will help attract even more students to the program,” said Dean of Commonwealth Honors College, Priscilla M. Clarkson.

While it will certainly establish itself as one of the best public university complexes of its kind in the nation, Dean Clarkson’s comment brings up an interesting dilemma.

What does this mean for the lack of parking already on campus?

The university is hoping their new construction will attract even more students to the 22,000 undergrad and 6,150 graduate students already attending UMass.  The Honors College has even stated that they plan to increase their own enrollment from 485 this fall, to 600 next year.

This means a lot more students, and a lot less parking.

Parking Services has been under heavy scrutiny from the student body over the three years that I’ve attended this university.  Angered over hefty parking passes and tow fees, a lack of metered spots in key lots, not to mention the wrath of Ernie’s Towing, the new Honors College complex has created an even bigger problem for students with cars.

“I think (parking passes) are a little too much money,” said junior Alina Bahlavouni.  “Nobody has that much money to  spend especially on parking, so I think that could be reduced.”

Hoping to make more parking available to the student body, the University does have plans to open up more spaces. This summer, Lot 30, at the foot of the hill across from the Physical Plant building, will add about 50 new spaces to a total of about 100, according to a campus spokesman.

However, this plan is nullified by the fact that also this summer, Lot 45, by the transit center on the northwest end of campus, will lose up to 100 spaces to make room for a new transit training course that was next to McGuirk stadium and is being displaced by the nearby construction to the football stadium.

To discourage students even further, UMass will not look to increase parking sooner rather than later, instead opting to open construction on garages and lots much further down the line.

According to a campus spokesman, there are plans but no funding for the old power plant site to become a new extension of the existing Campus Center parking garage. This garage will level the area between the north and south ends of campus and can be the platform for a building on top.

Thinking much longer term, meaning 20 or so years down the road, a master plan calls for the move of all parking lots outside the ring roads on campus. Meaning, Lot 71 would be freed up to be used for buildings, and Lot 32 would be made into a multi-level parking garage. Again, there is no funding in place for this project.

The disservice of lack of parking reaches an even heightened level for students particularly in the winter when campus staff members plow cars into insurmountable snow caves.

“It’s hard to find spots when it snows,” said junior Haley Etskovitz.  “It takes up a third of the parking spots.

Four cars and piles of snow on all sides boxed in Etskovitz’s car during the storm that hit the Amherst area three weeks ago.

While the winter takes the biggest toll on students’ cars, there are a number of other issues that certainly need to be addressed when it comes to parking on campus; first of which are steep pricing.

Here’s a breakdown of parking pass fees available to both undergraduate and graduate students:

Green Lots (25, 26, 27, 33, 34)= $320/Year

Purple Lots (22, 44, 49)= $285/Year

Yellow Lots (11, 12, 13)= $230/Year

Albeit $230 per year may not be the most outrageous thing in the world, the dollars do add up when you consider other fees including gas and the occasional ticket or tow fee, not to mention room and board, and book expenses.

Ernie’s Towing makes at least $150 per towed car, regardless of how far the car is being towed, according to numerous students on campus.  Ernie’s headquarters is located at 40 Montage Road in Amherst, just a 30-second drive from Townehouse Apartment’s located on 50 Meadow Street, where many UMass students reside.  If a 30-second drive from Meadow Street to Montague road costs $150, you can only imagine the cost of a tow all the way from campus would be.

“Ernie’s towing, they’re not my friends,” said senior Pat Holmes.  “I know a lot of people who have been unrightfully towed in the past, and it’s not right.”

To add, the average in-state tuition at UMass is $23,167, while out-of-state is $36,582, according to it’s website.  When factoring in book expenses that can range anywhere from $500-$1,000 each year, a hefty sum begins to accumulate.  The university has to remember that we are college students, widely considered to be the most cash-stricken time in our lives as adults.  We shouldn’t have to worry about receiving a ticket when parking outside the Whitmore Administration building for five minutes just to run in and grab a quick sandwich.

The University has to do something about parking on campus, and quick, considering the increase in enrollment that is expected to hit next fall.  More specifically, there needs to be an increase in metered parking, as well as more daily parking in general, and this doesn’t mean five-to-twenty years from now.

UMass is expected to have spent roughly $306.5 million by the spring of 2014 on central campus infrastructure, Hampshire Dining Commons, new academic classroom buildings, and the Honors College, alone, not to mention the $12.3 million already spent on the Lederle Lab renovations.  The University also has plans to upgrade its Life Science Laboratories, as well as demolishing the old power plant.

If the University is willing to spend close to $320 million on campus infrastructure, it couldn’t hurt to add in an additional lot or two.

Hoax or Not? The Guide to Distinguishing Between Authoritative & Fake Webpages

            John R. Henderson, a librarian at Ithaca College, offers some useful advice on how to recognize reliable websites versus junk in his tutorial, “A Guide to Critical Thinking About What You See on the Web.” 

            Henderson breaks up his tutorial into six different parts, or suggestions that include:

           

            1) Make Sure you are in the right place.

            2) When in doubt, doubt.

            3) Consider the source.

            4) Know what’s happening.

            5) Look at the details.

            6) Distinguish web pages from pages found on the web.

           

            All six suggestions offer practical advice in evaluating the value, accuracy, and objectiveness of websites that will ultimately help you decide which are acceptable to use on a day-to-day basis.

            One criteria that must be met when attempting to decide if a website is useful or not is finding out if it is authoritative.  Henderson marks authority as,

            “Who are the authors, or who is responsible? What gives them their authority or expertise?”

            In other terms, is there a part on the website that offers a list of the author’s credentials? Is there a way to contact the author? What academic training has the author had that justifies him and her writing on the subject?

            These are all important questions to ask yourself when evaluating the authoritativeness of a website.

            Here are six examples of websites that either meet or fail to meet the authoritative criteria.

 

1) American Cultural History: 1960-1969

            While the website is outdated and primitive, having not been updated since 1999, it still offers a great deal of information on the 1960’s that seems valid.  There are numerous links on the page, most of which link to an .edu, .org, or a well-known network in ESPN, verifying the credential of the site.

            The page is also separated into various sections including sports, music, fashion, and historical events, all of which have direct references to books that define what was just talked about. 

            At the bottom of the page to solidify its authority, there is a contact section with a link to the site designer and authors’ email addresses. There is also a research guide link to the Lone Star College of Kingwood Library database. 

           

2) History: The 1960s

            While there is no direct contact list for specific authors, there is a “contact us!” link where users can email the website and offer feedback or any troubleshooting that they may have had with the page. 

            It is understandable why there is no contact page for specific authors, as the history.com, also affiliated with the History Channel on television, is a major network that has multiple authors writing for their page. 

            Besides the contact page, there are a number of other ways to tell the page is authoritative, such as how its updated regularly, the design of the page is professional, all of the links work, and there are multiple videos that create a wonderful multimedia package for viewers.  It’s easy to tell the site’s motive is to inform rather than to mislead. 

 

3) The Sixties

            This website, while it looks slightly unprofessional at first glance, is actually probably the most authoritative out of the six websites.  The page is an .edu, affiliated with University of Miami, and offers a contact list for its three authors of the page, Dr. Donald Spivey (History), Dr. Joseph Alkana (English), and Dr. David L. Wilson (Biology).  All three look to be professors at the University for the course titles, “American Studies 301,” “History 367,” and “English 367.”

            There is a link to the class syllabus with all three professors office hours and email addresses, as well as the teaching assistants information. 

            Another part of the website that solidifies its authoritativeness is a link to the University of Miami’s library database with numerous links to various documents and links. 

 

4) The Psychedelic Sixties

            The particular website is bid difficult to define its authoritative credentials.  It is a .edu, being sponsored by the University of Virginia, however the page is extremely outdated, having not been updated since December of 2009. 

            There is a section of the website for credits, however it is filled with peculiar awards that the page earned from the late 1990s with links to certain pages, most of which do not work.    

            There is no actual authors to get in contact with, either, leaving me to believe that this site should not be used for educational purposes as its credentials are lackluster. 

 

5) The Sixties Project

            The Sixties Project website looks to be just as counterfeit as the previous, with its outdate and primitive-looking page coupled with its odd color scheme.  However, there is a link to the authors email address, as well as a page entitled, “Scholars” that has links hundreds of various authors of other novels and educational books. 

            In the resources portion of the page, there is also a link to amazon.com that shows the books being cited on the page are actually real, and ready for purchasing.

            While the site does look tacky, you can’t knock its authority credentials. 

 

6) Flower Power: An American 1960s Movement

             This site is different from all the others because its primary purpose is to sell, rather than to inform.  It serves as a platform to order flowers, with one page dedicated to informing and giving background information about the 1960s.

            There is an author, Hubert Cumberdale, however this is no link to his credentials.  I was skeptical about the site, so I decided to Google his name, and all that comes up is a finger puppet known as Salad Fingers that grew popular back in 2005.  Cleary the website is a hoax. 

            Also, while there are numerous links on the page, there are quite a few that do not work, solidifying my position that this site is not authoritative.