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I'd like you to think about how the last bit of information you read somewhere that you shared with someone... how did you tell them? How long did it take to relay that information? How much research did you do to ensure that what you were saying was accurate and well thought out?
Some types of media (like a tweet or live television broadcast) make it possible to share information very quickly, while others (like a book) take much longer to create due to their editing processes and standards. When you understand the different amounts of time and effort placed into creating a type of information, you can start to understand why your instructors are asking you to find sources from "scholarly articles" for college research.
Information is kind of like the Demogorgon from Stranger Things; it grows and changes over time, each stage of growth is marked by an increase in size, complexity, and, to a degree, reliability. We call this phenomenon the information cycle and it starts with an event, like the release of a popular television show.
Social media is the first stage of the information cycle because that's where people first start producing information about an event as they react to it in the minutes and hours after the event occurs. The information produced isn't what anyone would consider reliable, but it does provide a real-time picture of public interest and opinion.
News is the second stage and that includes print, online, and broadcast. News is produced within 24 hours of an event and stories are brief rarely more than a few hundred words. News organizations are generally held accountable for the accuracy of their reports, so they check their facts. As a result, it takes the news an hour or more to catch up after something gets big in social media. News isn't produced as ridiculously fast as social media, but it's still fast and way more reliable.
Magazines and, increasingly, blogs are the third stage. These can be print or online and show up in the days and weeks following an event. Magazines use all that time to take the facts from the news and interpret them often in a thousand words or more. Why does the event matter? How should we react? That kind of interpretation is one of the main advantages of magazines, but it's also a drawback. Interpretations can be thoughtful and compelling, but they can also be politically biased or just plain wrong.
The fourth stage is journal articles, which apply academic rigor to the topics they analyze and are considered the gold standard of reliable information. They have to pass peer review in which experts pick the article apart and demand revisions until they're satisfied. Planning a study, collecting and analyzing data, and surviving peer review takes a lot of time, which is why journal articles start to appear a year or so after an event. They're worth the wait, but because of that academic rigor journal articles can be difficult for non-experts to figure out. They also tend to examine very narrow aspects of an event like this, and they're fairly long, usually 10 or more pages.
Books come fifth in the cycle, and, out of all the stages, they generally take the longest to produce. Books, spoiler alert, are hundreds of pages long so they're able to make big, overarching arguments that draw from all the stages of the information cycle. They do for the entire cycle what magazines do for the news, but way more thoroughly. They interpret the event and say something thoughtful about it as a whole.
So that's the information cycle if you know we're in the cycle a piece of information comes from you'll be better equipped to understand its relative strengths and weaknesses, but wait, when it comes to determining reliability, every piece of information has to be evaluated individually and a librarian can help you with that.
The Information Cycle is the progression of media coverage of a specific newsworthy event. Understanding the information cycle will help you to better know what information is available on your topic and better evaluate information sources covering that topic. Information is often published following this pattern:
Information can be found on television, social media, and the web. This information is quick and lacks detail, but is initially updated. It covers the who, what, why, when, and where of the event and is intended for a general audience. It is written by bloggers, social media participants, and journalists.
Explanations and timelines of the event begin to appear in professionally published newspapers. Written by journalists and intended for a general audience, it begins to include more factual information and may include statistics, quotes, photographs, and editorial coverage
Long-form stories in popular magazines and news magazines begin to discuss the impact on society, culture, and public policy. These articles are written by a variety of people, including journalists and essayists, and often include commentary provided by scholars and experts in the field being discussed. These articles are aimed at a general audience or specific non-professional groups but include more detailed analysis, interviews, and various perspectives.
Scholars, researchers, and professionals provide focused, detailed analysis and theoretical, empirical research. This information has been reviewed by other scholars, researchers, and professionals to ensure the credibility and accuracy of the results. The information is intended for scholars, researchers, and university students.
In-depth coverage can be found in books, which can range from an in-depth analysis written by scholars to popular books written by journalists. Information also begins to appear in reference books to provide facts, overviews, and summaries of the event. Additionally, government reports begin to be released, which include information written by government panels, organizations, and committees and are focused on public policy, legislation, and statistical analysis.