Navigating the News
Nicki Dakis MS, MA
Part 1: Choosing Reliable News Sources in Education
There are many ways to research the news: social media, print, radio, t.v... Understanding which of these sources can be relied upon to report information accurately is vitally important. Some sources, such as broadcasted talk shows, are first and foremost entertainment; and although they share news, it may be exaggerated or entirely made up. Getting facts from several different reputable sources is the best way to be sure you are using accurate information for your schoolwork.
So how do you know if a source is reputable? It’s not always easy to tell.
1. Investigate your news source. There is probably no such thing as a totally objective or non-biased news source, but try to get as close as you can. Research your sources: Are they well established? Are they either self-described or identified by an objective source as being “liberal” or “conservative’? (Avoid them if they are.) Do they publicly admit and attempt to correct their errors? (Yes is the answer you are looking for.) Non-U.S. new sources, such as the BBC, may have less American political bias and can be great resources for current events information. Ad Fontes Media’s bias chart is a good tool to help determine objective news sources: https://www.adfontesmedia.com.
2. Who is the author?
Before you read or view your news, look to see who and where its coming from. What makes the person qualified to speak on the subject? Does the author/announcer have a perspective or agenda that they are pushing? Are the facts and sources they’ve used verifiable? You can usually tell if a person or organization is credible by their professional experience and/or organization’s profile. You can also use “google” to verify the author and publication‘s reputation.
3. Is it fact or fiction?
Reputable news should be backed up by facts, be truthful, state reality, and can be verified. Questionable news can generally not be proven true or false, interprets reality, may try to sway an audience, and is either not backed up by verifiable facts or uses only carefully selected facts that support one position. First-hand accounts (i.e. on the ground reporting), and use of primary sources (i.e. credible statistics) are normally most accurate. News coming from opinionated sources, such as letters to the editor, blogs, or commercial websites, may or may not be based on fact, but are nevertheless not appropriate sources for academic work. There are several good online fact checking tools that can quickly verify the accuracy of an article or news report. (See part 2 of this article for a list of fact checking sites).
When researching a topic for school, it is imperative that you investigate your sources to be sure they are reliable. Even reputable news sources can make mistakes- and that alone that does not necessarily make them bad. Generally speaking, if you 1) carefully investigate your sources 2) fact check your articles and 3) read the same news in multiple reputable sources, you can feel comfortable that the information you are getting is factual.