Join Elsa Loftis for an in-depth discussion in this video The information cycle, part of Information Literacy.
- Let's talk about how news and how media coverage of events changes over time. This process is called The Information Cycle. A news story goes through a series of stages as it evolves across the various media formats. These days, you hear a news story first on the Internet, then on television, radio, and newspapers. Later it appears in magazines and academic journals, and eventually it is published into books. Understanding how information is created, how it is transmitted, and how it changes over time, will help you become a better researcher.
It will help you to understand what information is available when, and it will help you to find specific types of information. For example, let's take a close look at the Boston Marathon bombings, which took place on April 15, 2013. Reporters were already at the scene covering the big public event before the bombs exploded, and there were many observers as well, citizens with cameras and smartphones. In spite of the mass confusion and the immediate aftermath of the explosion, in the first moments, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sources were used to broadcast information about the damage, to tell family members about their safety, and within a few minutes, there were hundreds of photos, tweets, and retweets about the explosion.
Usually, it takes journalists some time to arrive at a disaster, but The Boston Globe journalists were already on Twitter. Their tweets were fed into the paper's live blog of the event, which was the most visited page on their website after the bombing and during the subsequent hunt for the bombers. Globe staff also harvested tweets from other additional information that they could use and try to verify. Together with citizen reports, these primary sources can be considered the first draft of history.
Within the first few hours, Facebook and Wikipedia pages were created. Meanwhile, online news outlets across the world developed and produced stories, often with distorted facts as they began to emerge in the confusion of the aftermath. These news reports were quickly generated, and often with limited detail or verification. The next day, there continued to be conflicting reports, but newspapers published longer stories written by journalists for the general public.
These are articles generally focused on providing an overview of the event. The articles were compiled by professional journalists, and are considered secondary sources. The Federal Bureau of Investigation took over the investigation, and on April 18th, released photographs and a surveillance video of two suspects. Shortly after the FBI released the images, the public provided thousands of photographs and videos to the police, which were scrutinized by the authorities and online public social networks.
The suspects were identified later that day as Chechin brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Five days later we watched the dramatic manhunt for the brothers live on television. Eventually, Tamerlan was shot and Dzhokhar was captured. Weekly news magazines, such as US News and World Report, produced longer articles which provided greater detail analysis of issues and an overview of the story. These articles are written by journalists who combine primary sources and reports with analysis by experts and government officials into articles for the general public.
These are secondary sources. Almost two years later, the trial for the admitted Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, concluded. Throughout the trial, reporting continued, and more information surfaced. Academic research and articles continue to be published in the years and even decades after an event. They may contain in depth reviews of the literature and provide a detailed analysis of the event that is often theoretical. They are ideal sources for your research, and eventually books get written.
In the case of the Boston bombings, several first hand accounts of the experience were written by survivors and eyewitnesses. It usually takes a couple years for scholars to publish academic books that contribute in depth research to their respective academic fields. They will detail and expand themes, topics, subjects, and analysis begun in the academic journals. These books will be peer reviewed, assuring a high level of accuracy and intellectual rigor. In this case, the trial didn't finish until two years after the event.
it is only now that researchers can begin to analyze the events more thoroughly and write comprehensive academic books discussing the impact of an event on American culture. Focusing on only one part of the information cycle means that you're only getting one part of the picture. It is important to keep in mind that information develops through time. You might be searching for a source that hasn't been created yet.
Artist or designer? Elsa explains how creative professionals can use informational searches for inspiration and professional development. Whatever your background, this course is designed to help you become a better, faster, and more thorough researcher.
- Understanding the information cycle
- Working with books, periodicals, databases, and web resources
- Identifying your information needs
- Choosing search terms
- Evaluating resources
- Citing sources