Electronic Eye December 2017

World News Digest

Kathleen Meulen

We all agree that young adults need consistent access to quality news reporting and that this is crucial to help them make sense of their world. We also know that libraries have long had a role in providing users with access to news information as well as training in how to locate pertinent articles and detect bias in reporting.

Here is today’s challenge as I see it. Young adults have a need for credible news information as news stories hit. Most news websites from mainstream media networks are easily accessible on the Web, but these sources have to pay the bills. So, they work hard to achieve a balance of free content that will increase their readership and market share with paywalls and advertising.

Paywalls can be so frustrating, despite the fact that I completely understand the need to pay for good journalism.

How do we provide students with access to very current news information in an easily accessible format without adding too many paywalls of our own in the process?

I am very invested in this challenge. There are many academic reasons why the students in my school need access to very current news sources, but my biggest challenge is a ninth-grade semester’s end assignment on a topic from the Middle East. Not only do my students need highly current and credible information about this volatile area but they also need some of their perspective to be from regional (non-Western) news sources. This can be quite challenging for them.

Every year, I have my work cut out for me. I’m putting Facts on File’s World News Digest to the test. Will it solve my Middle Eastern news needs? Surely the “World News” name says it all?

World News Digest from Facts on File on the Infobase Platform

Facts on File World News Digest bills itself as “a permanent record of the essential facts of the news as reported in the major newspapers, news magazines and online news outlets of the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia, and elsewhere in the world.” To this end, the editors research and curate information on a weekly basis from over 100 major newspapers, magazines, government and online sources. Their editors do check these sources for Zimbabweanith other news sources. Then they write some interpretive summaries to help readers better understand topics and connect information together.

They do so with a clean and engaging interface. The front page is highly browsable. It is made up of several horizontal ribbons, which change weekly. The ribbons have arrows so that users can scroll through the content. The very top ribbon is a search bar with the option to access advanced search options and also a user’s search history. The next ribbon down is a “News Media Roundup” for the past week, followed by “Hot Topics,” “Landmark Events in History,” “People in the News,” and “Countries in the News.”

On the front page, the right column focuses on a “Special Feature,” quick links to resources, recent news headlines, and a “That Day in History” feature.

I was pretty excited about the “News Media Roundup” sections in terms of the amount and types of news content offered. When a user clicks on a story in these roundups, they not only get a news article, but they can also potentially see social media reactions that are relevant to understanding the topic, videos, editorial cartoons, and even infographics. Each one of these types of information is listed in its own tab. The social media reactions are generally from Twitter. The videos are pulled from mainstream news sources such as NBC, PBS, and BBC which host clips on YouTube. I will say that, in an effort to keep the video page looking clean, there isn’t any explanatory captioning to identify the different clips and the news source who created them. The title of the news clip is shown on the thumbnail and there are usually news source logos in the corners of the screens. Users can also click “YouTube” in the interface to watch the clip on YouTube, which will definitely give users more information.

The infographics can be very useful for young adult learners who are trying to better understand a topic. At the time of review, “Turmoil in Saudi Arabia” was featured and the infographics section included charts that explained who was arrested in the government’s crackdown and how they were related to the House of Saud. There was also a timeline of the succession of Saudi rulers as well as charts detailing the wealth of the people detained. The following week, the apparent coup in Zimbabwe was featured and the infographics included a pictorial “Who’s Who” of the major figures in the news story and a timeline of Zimbabwean history since independence. Most of these were created by news sources and sometimes tweeted out on the news organization’s official account.

Of course, the news articles are the bread and butter of this online resource. There are several things to appreciate about how the articles are presented. Since this is a database that does not rely on advertising, it is very easy to find the byline and date. This is a nice departure from mainstream news sources, which sometimes have to put advertising space in those prime locations. This frequently muddies up a young adult’s attempt to find the author and date.

Secondly, the news source is prominently labeled with the source’s logo, which helps young adult researchers recognize sources and assess credibility. Related articles are also referenced in the right column of the page. There is usually one that goes “back in time” on the same topic as well as “forward in time.” A bibliographic citation is offered at the bottom of the page in just MLA and Chicago format as well as a persistent URL for consistent access.

There are several page tools embedded in the articles which allow users to print, save, share via e-mail or Google Classroom, and hear the text read out loud. The text reader is no better (and no worse) than any of the other page readers out there.

The search functionality offers some easy choices to narrow results including sorting results from most recent to least recent, which is always helpful. Advanced search techniques allow users to check boxes for types of information and also specify a date range.

Since this is World News Digest and since I’m testing this to see whether it will fit my Middle Eastern research need, it was very important for me to see that non-Western sources are represented in this database. There is a tab that does list all of their sources by four different broad types:

  1. News organizations
  2. Magazines, journals, and websites
  3. Groups and institutes
  4. Government agencies and global organizations.

While most of the sources listed in all four types are Western, there are several noteworthy additions that fit my specific needs including Egypt’s Al-Ahram, Al-Arabiya, Al Jazeera, Jerusalem Post, and Jordan Times. Other regions of the world are also well represented.

There isn’t a way to limit searches to a particular news source, which is a strategy that I often like to teach students how to do. There is an easy way, however, to limit articles by an actual country. This is something that I found quite useful and I could see lots of different ways to use this functionality. It is easily accessible under the “Browse News” tab at the top of the homepage.

How recent is their news? In some cases, there are articles that are only a day old. That makes this database usefully current.

Taken all together, my impression of this database is that it has a striking amount of cross-referencing and lots of simple search functions that can make it easy for young adults to find news that they can use. The “world news” is pulled from a sufficient variety of both Western and non-Western sources and it is presented in a format that allows readers to focus on understanding the topic. It is a great database to have for young adult researchers who need current information.

Kathleen Meulen Ellison has been a teacher-librarian for over two decades both in New York City and in the Pacific Northwest.  She currently works at Bainbridge High School on Bainbridge Island in Washington and can be reached at kellison@bisd303.org. She was the 2013 recipient of the New York Times/Carnegie Corporation’s “I Love My Librarian” award.  Electronic Eye gives in-depth reviews of online databases and other resources for school and public libraries and reports on trends in the world of information.

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