Reputable sources have attracted a growing readership in the coronavirus era

The internet gave us all unlimited potential for the dissemination of information, both as the audience and the creators. It opened a Pandora’s Box of thoughts and ideas, opinions and points of view, facts and “alternative” facts. It also gave us news — some carefully researched and properly cited, some emanating from dubious sources and some amounting to frivolous subjects meant purely for our entertainment. The consequences of this information explosion have ranged from mildly harmless to exceedingly dangerous. They have run the gamut from cat videos and clickbait to unregulated Neo-Nazi hate speech and Cambridge Analytica. 

We are drowning in a sloppy stew of misinformation, one-sided opinion, hearsay and news that uses us rather than representing news we can use. And now, confronted with one of the greatest crises that humankind has faced in the modern era, our future and perhaps our very survival depend on access to news that is based upon facts and solid evidence. 

Fortunately, what appears to be happening spontaneously is that we, the people, are turning increasingly toward credible, authoritative sources of information. 

There is ample evidence that legitimate news sites, regional, national, local newspaper websites and local television channels (and their websites) are receiving an increasing share of our attention as we seek out the truth. An article published on April 7, 2020, in The New York Times, citing data from SimilarWeb, found that online traffic to numerous local news sites increased exponentially from February to March. Visits to the Akron Beacon Journal, for instance, increased by 50 percent, while visits to the San Francisco Chronicle jumped by 150 percent. Meanwhile, visits to respected national outlets like The New York Times and the Washington Post leaped by more than 50 percent. Just as significantly, visits to partisan outlets like The Daily Caller and Truthdig remained flat or declined. 

Who among us, before the time of the coronavirus, has not had the sensation that the increasing amount of time we spend browsing the web leaves us with an empty feeling of regret, the feeling that we could have done something more productive with our precious time? “I could have gone to the gym, had a V8, made the bed, talked to my spouse, read a book, learned about something important.” No one is going to the gym right now, of course. As we take shelter from the pandemic that threatens us, web browsing has become an increasingly dominant part of our daily routines. It’s more crucial than ever that our time spent on the internet is a productive use of our precious time. Thankfully, the numbers tell us that, when it comes to sourcing credible news, this is exactly what’s happening.

While there are few, if any, silver linings within the cloud of uncertainty and fear that now engulfs us, there may be one: we can remain optimistic that the severity of our circumstances will force all of us to emerge from this experience as better citizens, with a heightened sense of our responsibility toward one another. We’ll be more caring, more generous, more compassionate and less interested in our differences. Our unencumbered access to the truth from respected and credible media sources will have led us out of the darkness of this long night into the bright shining light of the new dawn.

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