Ben Witherington shared the cartoon above. One of the challenges in teaching information literacy and fluency skills is that many of the lines that once distinguished experts from others are not merely blurred but invisible in the internet age. Op-eds for the Huffington Post may be written by people with high levels of expertise in the topic they write about, or none at all. Unless you take time to do research about an author, you probably won’t know which.
I think that it is of great importance to seek qualified expert testimony. Arguably the best approach is to consult such scholarly sources themselves. When it comes to journalists and bloggers, those that cite expert sources are preferable to those that do not. But working in the media, at least as much if not more than blogging as a hobby, demands that one be able to offer a gripping sensational story. And sometimes the truth does not live up to that demand of the journalistic profession. And so there is an issue that comes up when consulting a media report about what experts say, rather than going straight to the experts themselves.
But that doesn’t mean that credentials are not every bit as relevant in news reporting – and in a very similar way to in academia. Just as a person’s qualifications are not the only thing to consider when looking into a matter of science or history, so too if someone has a journalism degree, that doesn’t immediately make them trustworthy. Just as ongoing research and employment are relevant to our assessment of experts working in the academy, so too in journalism who one works for and what one has researched and accomplished are relevant considerations.
In the internet age, credentials and experience remain important. And in theory, finding out about those things should be that much easier with the internet at our disposal.
And whether consulting the experts directly, or turning to a media source, many of the same considerations apply.