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Evaluating Sources

What you'll need to know about evaluating sources

To evaluate a movie, video, or film clip (or something from television [TV]) and determine if you want to use it for your research look for:


Purpose: Why was the movie, video, or film clip (e.g. found on YouTube, Hulu, or news site/TV station) created?

        To Inform?
 For example: how to do something (fix a drain, repair a computer, learn how to use a computer program). Give an overview of a recent event or issue.
Was it to entertain?
 For example: good old-fashioned motion pictures (usually at least 60 minutes long; most at least 90 minutes long), TV shows (comedy/drama), music videos, celebrities (e.g. interviewed, doing bits), stories, pratfalls, jokes, etc.
◦Was it to share information?
 For example: hobbies (knitting, cooking, gardening; some step-by-step), fandom (sightings of celebrities), familial news (new baby waving or smiling).
Was it to advertise or sell a product?
 For example: almost any product or service imaginable from automobiles to Zumba DVDs, dog sitting to private jet services. Promotions of upcoming shows (theatrical, film, TV) or events.
◦ Was it to Influence views, beliefs, elections (advocacy)?
 For example: candidate PR material, films on topical issues (education, environment, poverty, health, etc.)
◦ Was it for Personal enjoyment?
 For example: pages created by people who wish to promote themselves and/or their interests/hobbies. These may have some or many of the above mentioned purposes. Some of these are aimed at a small audience of friends and/or family members. Others are viewed worldwide, some unexpectedly so.
Also look for the creator:
Sponsor/Owner of Movie, Video, or Film Clips Found on the Web
Government agency: federal, state, city, county (address frequently includes .gov)
 Governmental sites have "official" information such as presidential, gubernatorial, mayoral speeches and statements, agency employee output, laws, ordinances, proposed changes, and policies.
Educational: university, college, high school (address frequently includes .edu)
 Educational sites give "official" representation for organizations that offer education. Film clips could include presidents' messages, news releases, etc. Movies may be university sponsored. Recent sports events may also be featured. Instructional materials may be featured on department and/or library Web sites.
 ◦Business/company (address frequently includes .com)
 Film clips promote the company's goods and services--directly or indirectly. Company outreach, volunteerism of employees, and donations to worthy causes may be emphasized. Presentations from shareholder meetings may exist.
Association: professional, trade, entertainment (address frequently includes .org)
 Film clips will be designed to recruit new members and provide information to current members and the general public.
 ◦News bureau: television, newspaper, radio (address frequently includes .com)
 Videos will be actual news reports (some originally aired on TV, others born on the Web; also more lengthy interviews or detailed news stories than can be aired on TV). Film clips will promote upcoming newscasts or stories. Some of the stories may be of a documentary nature.
 ◦Personal (individual)
 These videos are created for the enjoyment of the creator and his/her family and friends. They might also be aimed at potential employers. Some of the creators of these (even public officials) do not judiciously take into account that videos designed for personal entertainment may be viewed negatively by potential or current employers or the public. (This applies to still photograph as well.) Some of these are created on hand-held devices such as small cameras, Webcams, or cell phones.
Sponsor/Owner of Motion Pictures, Documentaries, or TV Shows (May or may not be found on the Web):
◦Major studio (e.g. MGM, 20th Century Fox, etc.)
◦Independent studio
◦Major network: ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS
◦Personal equipment/shared studio
Content: Is the movie, video, or film clip organized and focused on a topic or story? What is the goal of the video? Is there a central theme? Is there a narrative structure? Does it make linear sense? (Some items may be designed to be deliberately obtuse, but others are flat out badly made.) If it is a news report or documentary, who is interviewed? What questions are asked? Is the interviewee given adequate time to respond in the finished piece? Do phrases appear as if they might have been taken out of context? It is a "gotcha" interview or a sincere attempt to discover something informative or productive? Are any stereotypes (positive or negative) reinforced or challenged?
Coverage: Does the movie, video, or film clip cover the topic comprehensively, partially or is it an overview? Is it one of a series? Are additional videos on the same topic planned?
Audio/visual: Is the movie, video, or film clip well designed? Is the lighting adequate? Does the frame include what it needs to include and avoids excess? Does the frame jump a lot making it difficult to see? Is it blurry or have other drawbacks? Are the visual aspects clear in intent, relevant, and professional looking? Is the audio understandable? Is there a lot of background noise that makes it difficult to hear? Are the extras relevant? Are the props germane and appropriate? Is the staging of high quality (e.g. background not distracting, good contrast between foreground and background)? Are there captions (are they needed)?
Long-Term Availability: Is the movie, video, or film clip something that will still be available to be viewed later? In scholarly research it is essential that resources used to support something be available by others later--even decades or centuries later.
◦Is the video on a stable platform and is it likely to be available years from now to future viewers/researchers? This should not be a problem for widely-distributed major studio films, but it can and already has been a problem with many other videos.
◦Is it likely that the video will be removed from the Web site? (Did someone break copyright to put it up and will therefore be legally required to remove it?) Is the music group going to remove the video from a previous hit and replace it with a video of their current single? Is the news feed going to be changed as soon as the next big story hits?
◦Is the film clip so controversial that it will be pulled very soon because of a public outcry?
◦Is it a promotional piece with a targeted timeline that makes it likely to be removed? (E.g. upcoming city council, PTA, or other type of meeting, upcoming concert, show in a theater, or "happening.")
◦Is it something that someone will likely remove in the future because he/she is running for office/appointed head of a company/gets married/changes his/her mind and does not want previous activities and/or statements available?
Bias--political or issue stance (of the author or sponsor): Some movie, video, or film clips have an inherent bias that will impact everything that appears in them. Is the creator:
◦an industry-sponsored think tank?
◦a political action (PAC) group or association?
◦a business?
◦a satirist (so the entire thing may be intended as a joke)? (E.g. The Onion, Colbert Report)
Date of Production/Revision: When was the movie, video, or film clip created? Is it an update? (Older movies, videos, and film clips can and do remain relevant and useful.)
Usefulness: Is the movie, video, or film clip relevant to the current research project? A well-researched, well-presented video is not going to be helpful if it does not address the topic at hand. Ask, "Is this useful to me?" If it is useful, does it:
◦support an argument
◦refute an argument
◦provide examples (case studies, incidents, real-life situations impacted by something or someone)
◦provide "wrong" information that can be challenged or disagreed with productively
Authority/author: Who is responsible for the movie, video, or film clip? Are all creators identified (writer, director, producer, editor, etc.)? Is the writer an expert in this field? What else has he/she written? Does the director have previous experience? Does the video have an identifiable, respectable creator? If not, the video must be used with caution in a research context. (If it is strictly for the viewer's entertainment, creator credibility does not matter. However, if some kind of action or behavior is encouraged, it matters a great deal.) News film clips: is it from a national or local news station? Local citizen or visitor with a camera?
Audience: To what type of viewer is the movie, video, or film clip directed? Is the level appropriate for your needs? Are the video's intended viewers:
◦general viewers,
◦students (elementary, high school, college, graduate),
◦specialists or professionals,
◦researchers or scholars?

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