Multimedia Sources: Currency, Relevance, Authority

Currency: The timeliness of the information

Key Question: When was the item of information published or produced?

Determining when a multimedia source was produced can be more complicated than you might expect. With videos, in particular, you must be careful to distinguish the date of production from the date the content was published online. Do you think it is significant that a very old video was only recently published online? Maybe, but it depends on the context. Is the person or organization that put the video online the same that originally made the video? Is the video edited from the original? Is it the most recent version?

These are all important questions to ask. The first step to answering them is to understand how to find this information inside the interface where a video lives. Since most of the videos you will come across in your research will probably come from YouTube, we’ll use YouTube’s interface for our examples. Keep in mind that this information is usually in the same place on other video hosting services.

Click the three hotspots on the YouTube screenshot below to learn more about the different places you can use to determine the currency of a video.

explore the hotspots

The question of most recent version of a video versus an original or primary version can be a critical one. For example, if the above video from TEDx Portland was not published on TEDx’s YouTube channel, is there any way for us to know if the video was edited from its original? Paying attention to dates of publication can not only help you ensure the currency of your sources, but doing so can help you ensure their fidelity as well.

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs

It can be especially challenging to work with a lot of multimedia sources because they may be more distracting than other forms of research. Thus, it is very important to establish the relevancy of a multimedia source and to remind yourself of that relevance whenever you return to the source.

Some questions you can ask to determine the relevancy of a multimedia source include:

  • How much of the multimedia source is related to your topic?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the multimedia source the best delivery of the content?
  • Does the multimedia source fit with other sources you’re using?

For example, if your project is about recycling and sustainability, would the TEDx video above be a relevant source? It depends, but unless your project studies paper towels in particular, the specific content from this video may not be relevant. In gauging relevance, it’s important to think about accuracy and authority as well. Even if your research paper is about paper towel usage, this video has to be accurate and credible in order to be relevant.

Authority: The source of the information

Determining the knowledge and expertise of the subject or speaker in a multimedia source can be challenging. Anyone can put a video on YouTube, so the barrier to entering a conversation or debate is much lower.  Anyone can make an assertion or a statement about something in a video, but only someone who knows or understands that thing can make a reasonably reliable statement or assertion about it. Some external indications of knowledge or expertise in a video or multimedia source are:

  • Association with a professional or academic organization
  • Statement of credentials or authority in the video’s metadata
  • Quality or credibility of other videos on the same channel

Take a look at the description field from the TEDx video above:

R. P. Joe Smith served as a District Attorney in Umatilla County and nearly won a race for Oregon Attorney General without taking a single contribution over $99.99. He is a former chair of the Oregon Democratic Party and is active with several local nonprofits. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

It’s clear that Joe Smith has a lot of experience and credibility as a politician. But from this description, can we tell if he has any authority to speak about paper towels? Even if we agree with the speaker about using fewer paper towels, that doesn’t make him an authority on the subject.

The second part of the description is also important: TEDx talks are independently organized and distinct from the larger TED conference. Thus, the authority of speakers is not validated merely by their association with TED. If we look at other videos on the same channel, many of them showcase credible speakers with a lot of authority, but that’s not universally true. Using our three measures of authority, then, Joe Smith’s video may not be a great source to use in a research project about paper towel conservation.


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