Too Much Information!: Tips to Help Your Students
Make the Most-and Best-of Today's Media
Having worked as a librarian
for many years in both the public library system and in private
and public corporations, I have come to develop simple prompts
for young people who are just beginning to encounter and use all
of the great—and sometimes not so great—information
available to them. Below are some simple steps and questions students
may use both in the accessing of information as well as in its
Obviously, Web sites provide
access to newspaper and magazine content. Identifying desired
sites will be easy for most students. What they’ll need
to know more specifically is site organization: Are there archives
available? Are they free? How far back do they go? How much of
today’s news is available to download? How much is available
to download full text?
Students need familiarity with online services—LexisNexis,
for instance—which provide more extensive archives and cover
thousands of sources. Understanding the concept of groupings of
libraries can focus the search better. Beyond LexisNexis, there
are services that specialize in particular academic areas.
The “old reliables,” printed indexes, are still widely
used. Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory [http://www.ulrichsweb.com/ulrichsweb]
and Full Text Source Online identify online sources for the unknowing
searcher. Some sources will only be found in Readers’ Guide
Students should be familiar with a few comprehensive archives,
like the New York Public Library newspaper collection, and know
how to use them. This is especially useful for ethnic publications
and out-of-print publications.
Some collections are maintained by organizations such as historical
societies that are often not open to the public, so special arrangements
need to be made for access.
Access to television news is now easier with services like ShadowTV,
in which segments of broadcasts can be viewed on a split screen
with accompanying script. (This can also be e-mailed.) The LexisNexis
News Library also has a file called “script” that
transcribes many major news organization broadcasts.
Look at several papers and compare
their coverage of the same stories. Readers should know that page
layout follows a formula, and that content and number of pages
is always at least partly driven by advertising. A paper like
The New York Times has a standard format. The extreme
right column on the front page is considered by the editors to
be the “most important” story, and the article on
the extreme left is the “second most important.” A
tabloid usually showcases one cover story to grab attention. But
what is the paper trying to tell? Who is the audience? Are nonstandard
words like sez and prez used? What is the print size? How are
photos and graphics used to tell the story?
Watch a television news broadcast with the sound off for a few
minutes. How do networks use facial gestures, body language, and
the personalities themselves to grab viewer attention?
Invite speakers from local papers to your school so they can give
their versions of what their mission is, and how they evaluate
their own and competitors’ work. (Many publications also
provide in-house tours.) In learning to evaluate, it’s useful
for students to have people who put the paper together to explain
their jobs and what they are trying to achieve. Students can then
think through the evidence to see if stated goals are achieved,
policies followed, and so forth.
Familiarize students with sources within self-directed media like
the Columbia Journalism Review and Editor and Publisher. What
do media people say the crucial issues in their field are, and
how are they responding to these challenges?
Consider the impact that “watchdog groups” have. Conservative
organizations write about the “liberal media.” CAMERA
reports on bias in Middle East coverage. What do these groups
say to readers and the publications they criticize? Who sponsors
them and what agendas do they have?
Students become critical thinkers when they apply evaluative tools
to sources. Teachers and librarians serve as the bridge between
the two, showing students first how to get where they need to
go, and then how to make sense of what they find.
PETER EDELMAN has worked
as a special and public librarian since the early 1980s, with
companies including CBS, Rockefeller Foundation, the New York
Public Library, and The Daily News. He has research credits
or acknowledgments in sixteen books on diverse topics, from art
and religion to sports and politics. A resident of Hastings-on-Hudson,
Edelman has served on the town’s Library Friends board for