The Importance of Using Proper Research Citations to Encourage Trustworthy News Reporting

Article by Andy Tattersall: “…Understanding the often mysterious processes of how research is picked up and used across different sections of the media is therefore important. To do this we looked at a sample of research that included at least one author from the University of Sheffield that had been cited in either national or local media. We obtained the data from Altmetric.com to explore whether the news story included supporting information that linked readers to the research and those behind it. These were links to any of the authors, their institution, the journal or the research funder. We also investigated how much of this research was available via open access.

National news websites were more likely to include a link to the research paper underpinning the news story.

The contrasts between national and local samples were notable. National news websites were more likely to include a link to the research paper underpinning the news story. National research coverage stories were also more organic. They were more likely to be original texts written by journalists who are credited as authors. This is reflected in more idiosyncratic citation practices. Guardian writers, such as Henry Nicholls and George Monbiot, regularly provided a proper academic citation to the research at the end of their articles. This should be standard practice, but it does require those writing press releases to include formatted citations with a link as a basic first step. 

Local news coverage followed a different pattern, which is likely due to their use of news agencies to provide stories. Much local news coverage relies on copying and pasting subscription content provided by the UK’s national news agency, PA News. Anyone who has visited their local news website in recent years will know that they are full of pop-ups and hyperlinks to adverts and commercial websites. As a result of this business model, local news stories contain no or very few links to the research and those behind the work. Whether any of this practice and the lack of information stems from academic institution and publisher press releases is debatable. 

“Much local news coverage relies on copying and pasting subscription content provided by the UK’s national news agency, PA News.

Further, we found that local coverage of research is often syndicated across multiple news sites, belonging to a few publishers. Consequently if a syndication republishes the same information across their news platforms, it replicates bad practice. A solution to this is to include a readily formatted citation with a link, preferably to an open access version, at the foot of the story. This allows local media to continue linking to third party sites whilst providing an option to explore the actual research paper, especially if that paper is open access…(More)”.

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