>Can You Trust Them?

>Last week we were talking about web sites that offer “content” that can be picked up by other sites, newsletters, and anyone else looking to fill pages. Are they are a good market, are they trustworthy, do they pay, etc.? A better question may be: How can you tell real journalism from “content” that is simply a compilation of stuff the writers found on other Internet sites?

This became especially relevant to me last week when I was researching an article about pet vaccinations. My Google search led me to dozens of sites that addressed the subject, but I quickly found that most of them were either content providers with nothing to show where they got their information or sponsored sites promoting various pet products. I did find the American Animal Hospital Association, which was cited by the vet who got me started on this project. I can probably believe them. Or can I?

In this day of instant information being thrown at us from all sides, how do we make sure that what we write is accurate? We must question everything and gather our own information. This has always been the journalist’s job. Reporters are taught to attribute everything to sources, unless they’re writing an opinion piece. People believe what they read. If it’s in print or online, it must be true. They don’t question the source.

We must question the source. Whatever we read, online or in print, we need to consider where the information came from before we use it in our own writing. Is the writer an expert? Does he quote people who are experts? Does she speak from experience? Is he trying to sell a product?

Our job is to present the truth, whether we’re writing investigative pieces, profiles, humor, or movie reviews. Google is helpful, but we need to go beyond Google to the original source. If I write that X shot makes dogs sick, I’d better be sure it’s true. Otherwise, my words could harm someone’s pet.

As I look out at today’s stormy weather, I think about chamber of commerce brochures that talk about the balmy average temperature on the Oregon coast. People who live here know better. Sure, it’s balmy on some September days, but it rains from October to June, and sometimes it even snows right here on the beach.

Whatever you’re writing about, try to find an actual human being who can answer your questions. Don’t believe everything you read. Question the source.

About six months ago, I published a couple of stories at a site called Orato.com. It’s a beautiful site, full of fascinating information. AND it claims to pay writers for each person who clicks on the story, which is published with relevant advertising. This seemed like a good place to use some stories that got bumped from another publication. I didn’t have to do any more work, just send them in. My articles were online the next day. And then, nothing. I checked last week on my “account.” I have earned 45 cents for 246 page visits. Plus, although Orato.com is a pretty site with interesting stories, who actually reads it? If you’re trying to build clips, it’s a way to get them, but don’t expect it to enhance your reputation or your bank balance.

All I’m saying is question everything.

Have you purchased your copy of Freelancing for Newspapers yet?