Exercise:

Before we begin, consider the following questions.

  • How do you define news?
  • What sources do you use to access news?
  • Who produces the news that you access?

Let's start with a few definitions. In this lesson, the term news content will be used to describe information that is a.) of interest to an audience and b.) reported through some means of publication. Journalism is the act of producing news—gathering, writing, and disseminating it. Journalists are people who engage in journalism.

News can cover a variety of topics. Some, like the actions of governments or corporations, innovative achievements, or tragic events have a certain level of importance, are written for large audiences and are obvious news items.

Screenshot of NY Times article on Russian-Ukraine tensions

Others don’t have quite the same level of seriousness or appeal to more limited audiences like residents of a particular community, sports fans or hobbyists; nonetheless, these are still news.

Screenshot of ESPN article on Jim Harbaugh's future with U of M

News can be delivered via several formats, including print, television, radio, and the internet (e.g., blogs, social media, etc.). Technology has transformed news, both in delivery (from traditional print sources—think newspapers—to media such as television and radio, and later to social media and digital aggregators) and production (think about the advent of the smartphone and social media and what influence that has had on journalism).

Journalism fulfils many purposes, both positive and negative. From a positive perspective, it informs the people, ensuring a level of transparency that checks the influence of government and business. It can be used to measure public opinion. It can also entertain. When used negatively, however, journalism can spread propaganda, advance narrow ideologies, or be used as a means of power or control.

Both trained journalists and ordinary citizens engage in journalism. Citizen journalism has been noted by scholars as an act of free expression that serves as a fundamental right in healthy democracies (Hargreaves, 2005, p. 10). Sometimes, as in the case of the George Floyd murder, citizen journalism calls attention to injustices that would otherwise not warrant attention by mainstream news agencies. However, it’s important to note how professional journalism differs from citizen reporting.

  1. Journalists are trained professionals who follow a code of ethics. In the United States, the Society of Professional Journalists, Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), and Online News Association all publish resources on the ethical coverage of news. NOTE: Ethics codes are best practices in journalism and are not regulated as they may be in other fields such as medicine.
  2. Stories by professional journalists follow a life cycle that can include revisions (as further details are discovered), retractions/corrections (if mistakes in reporting are found), or analysis (as details emerge and the big picture is considered). It is not uncommon for a story to evolve as time progresses. This is not always the case with citizen journalism efforts.
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In short, no. Not all content published by a news agency is news. Typically, print newspapers organized content by section, which gave readers a clue as to what was what. Some sections present editorial, or opinion, pieces. Some sections provide product (e.g., book, tech) reviews, which are also subjective. Still others provide interest pieces, tips, cartoons, or short stories. In the case of newspapers, this organization method often translates to their websites (see image below).

Header section of the New York Times website that shows sections used to organized content.

Many news agencies are making it easier to identify opinion pieces from actual news, often adding opinion, review, or similar word to the headline as we see in the example article from the Detroit Free Press below. However, as a reader you should also pay attention to the section that the article was published in. You’ll typically find this information somewhere near the headline.

Detroit Free Press article with section (Commentary) and the word 'Opinion' in title highlighted. Detroit Free Press article with section (Advice) highlighted.

Also be on the lookout for advertisements, clickbait, etc. Some are obvious, while others may take the appearance of news articles and appear mixed in with news content (see example below). Look for the words sponsored, ad, etc. If you find them think twice.

Screenshot of MLive website with sponsored content by MoneyWise.com (highlighted) found between two news articles.

Exercise:

Consider each of the articles below. Are they news?

Select those that ARE NOT news.

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News journalism operates at different levels of geographic focus. It can cover local/regional news, national, or world news.

Local/Regional news

Examples: The Eastern Echo, MLive, local television and radio news such as WXYZ, etc.
Focus: The main focus of these organizations is to cover events that are of interest to a particular community that may not warrant coverage at a broader level. Local news coverage represents the voice of the community, and coverage typically aligns with the community’s demographics, overall political ideology, and beliefs. Local news also serves as an important means for citizens to engage in local politics, fostering “an understanding of and ability to make informed decisions about issues of local government” (Bucay et. al., 2017).

Local news in the United States is in peril. News deserts, which are areas that have no credible local news coverage, have grown across the United States. A recent Washington Post article explores what harm is posed to communities in these deserts. "Studies show that people who live in areas with poor local news coverage are less likely to vote, and when they do, they are more likely to do so strictly along party lines" (Sullivan, 2021). Columbia Journalism Review has developed a map of news deserts.

National/World news

Examples: Well-known newspapers such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, as well as network nightly news, NPR, BBC, Cable outlets such as CNN, etc.
Focus: The main focus of these organizations is to cover noteworthy national and world events. Since the audience is more broad than local/regional outlets, coverage is geared toward national demographics.
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Traditionally, checklist style approaches to information evaluation (such as the CRAAP test) have been applied to news content. Unfortunately, a 2020 Stanford History Education Group study has shown the ineffective nature of such stratagies—those who spread misinformation are wise to these tactics and often develop content that, while problematic, will pass the criteria. A number of alternatives to CRAAP have been proposed. One such method is SIFT by Mike Caulfield, Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University Vancouver. This method teaches that we, as information consumers, should stop; investigate the source; find better coverage (from a trusted source); and trace claims, quotes and media to their original context (Caulfield, 2019). This method is particularly helpful in considering if the source is reputable before sharing its content. In encouraging us to find better coverage, it also aids in determining if claims are true— stories that can be verified across multiple news agencies are more likely to be true.

Another, similar method was developed by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). It contains eight criteria to consider when evaluating news content, but not all will apply to every news story:

  • Consider the source
  • Check the author
  • Check the date
  • Check your biases
  • Read beyond
  • Supporting sources?
  • Is it a joke?
  • Ask the experts

Let's explore how each of the criteria can be used to evaluate a news story.

Consider the source

"Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info" (IFLA, 2017).

In this step, you'll want to find out who is behind the information being circulated. If you don't recognize the source, it's important not to rely on what it says about itself (don't take what is said in the "About Us" or similar section of the site as fact). A strategy called "lateral reading" comes in handy here. Lateral reading relies on common internet tools such as Wikipedia, Google, and fact-checking sites to learn about the source of a story by finding what others are saying about it. The following video introduces this concept:

Exercise:

Investigate the source of the following article using lateral reading.

Screenshot of the Natural News article - 'Flurry of active volcanoes will cause global cooling and crop failures...global financial and political systems on the verge of catastrophe'
Select the answer that best describes who is behind the information.

Check the author

"Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?" (IFLA, 2017).

This step considers a person's authority to write on a topic. When looking for scholarly content, you may have learned to look at an author's credentials (e.g., degrees, awards, etc.), employment (where they work and what they do), and previous publications to evaluate authority on a topic. For news, the process is similar. Consider the following:

  • Does the person exist?
  • Is the author of the article a journalist? Remember, journalists are trained professionals who typically follow a code of ethics.
  • Has the author published other content? Has this content earned them a reputation?
  • If the information has been retrieved from a social media account, is the account verified (news outlets, public figures and governmental agencies are typically verified on Facebook and Twitter.)
  • If not, what qualifies them to write/report on the topic? Were they an eyewitness? Do they have specialized knowledge in the area?

Exercise:

Referring to the following article, answer the questions to determine if the author is credible.

Screenshot of the BBC article 'Kim Jong-un: N Korean defectors reflect on last decade'
Who is the article's author?
What resources/strategies can you use to determine that the author is a real person (check all that apply)?

Is the author a real person?

Check the date

"Reposting old news stories doesn't mean they're relevant to current events" (IFLA, 2017).

Before sharing content, be sure to check the date of the article. FEMA (2017) writes that “articles about old floods or other events get re-shared, particularly in instances where events are repeating—like if one particular area were to see another bout of heavy rain and flooding.” Many reputable sources will flag content that is older than a specified timeframe.

Keep in mind that news stories follow a lifecycle that can include revisions (as further details are discovered), retractions/corrections (as mistakes in reporting are found), or analysis (as details emerge and the big picture is considered). Consider where you are entering the cycle. Can newer content be found? Has the news organization called attention to any corrections or retractions since the initial date of publication?

Exercise:

You come across the following news article that one of your friends posted to social media. Before sharing, though, you decide to check when it was published.

Screenshot of USA Today article titled 'Should we all wear face masks to fight coronavirus? CDC says no, guidelines remain unchanged'
Select the option that best reflects your findings.

Check your biases

"Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgement" (IFLA, 2017).

Starr (2021) writes that “people are inclined to seek sources that confirm their persisting biases and self-segregate into groups with similar views, a pattern that much research has shown heightens group polarization” (p. 68). We most often consider bias in terms of political ideology (do we identify as liberal or conservative). Organizations such as The Pew Research Center have studied this issue and found that “Partisan alignment emerges in several of the most commonly named main sources for political and election news” (Grieco, 2020) (See figure below).

Pew Research figure titled 'U.S. adults who name Fox News or MSNBC as their main political news source are equally partisan'

The "liberal" media

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. You’ve probably heard the term “liberal media” thrown around when talking about mainstream national news media—it has become a favorite of conservative political pundits and politicians in the U.S.. Greenberg (2008) points out that this has not always been the case—through the 1950s, the U.S. media was accused of having a conservative slant. He goes on to trace the idea of “the liberal media,” ultimately finding its roots in the civil rights movement with “white Southerners opposed to integration who came to resent the critical fashion in which their attitudes and actions were covered by national news media… cast[ing] leading journalists and journalistic institutions as part of a culturally liberal elite that was biased in favor of blacks and other racial minorities and against the values of middle-class whites” (p. 169). The thought gained ground in the 1960s “as part of a larger upwelling of conservative populism in that decade that viewed elite institutions from the Supreme Court to academia to the federal bureaucracy as entrenched and oppressive powers, inimical to traditional American values” (p. 168). It remains a successful tactic today—a 2019 Gallop poll gauging the political slant of national news media showed that 42% of respondents consider the national media to be "too liberal" (Gallup, n.d.).

Gauging bias

Media bias charts (e.g., Ad Fontes’ media bias chart, Allsides Media Bias chart) have emerged that claim to gauge political slant. While such charts may be helpful in evaluating resources, Caulfield (2017) points out that “to the extent the bias exists, it’s in what they choose to cover, to whom they choose to talk, and what they imply in the way they arrange those facts they collect.” Sheridan (2021) further states that “Political bias isn’t the only thing news consumers should look out for. Reliability is critical, too, and the accuracy and editorial standards of organizations play an important role in sharing informative, useful news.” However, if you find yourself relying on a source that leans heavily towards a specific ideology, consider seeking coverage from the opposing end of the spectrum or centrist sources, consulting sites like Allsides.com to find coverage. While it probably won’t change the way that you feel about a topic, it is helpful to gain perspective into how others see and cover the same issue.

Exercise:

On January 11, 2022, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions met to discuss new variants of the COVID-19 virus and the federal response. In this meeting, members of the COVID-19 response team Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Janey Woodcock, and Dawn O'Connell all testified—their formal testimony can be downloaded in PDF form from the Senate's website or you can watch the video. However, while this event lasted around four hours and addressed a number of public concerns such as unclear messaging, confusion over isolation/quarantine procedures, keeping schools open, and lack of available tests, exchanges between Senate Republican Rand Paul and Dr. Anthony Fauci (timestamp 1:19:30 - 1:28:25 and 3:05:55 - 3:13:15) made the news.


Screenshot of AllSides.com coverage of senate hearing titled 'Rivalry Between Fauci, Republicans continues with arguments about COVID-19 origins'

Access the Allsides.com coverage of this meeting. Compare how each of the media outlets (left, center, and right) present the story. Jot any observations that come to your attention in the space below. What did each of the sources choose to focus on? How was the exchange presented?


Read beyond

"Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What's the whole story?" (IFLA, 2017)

Hargreaves (2005) coined the term “infotainment” to describe the blurring of journalism and entertainment (p. 59). He traces this phenomenon back to the tabloid journalism of the early 20th century, noting that when launching the New York Mirror in 1924, William Randolph Hearst declared that the paper consisted of “90 per cent entertainment, 10 per cent information—and the information without boring you” (p. 61). Tabloid journalism “cuts through information clutter and speaks in plain language with strong emotional appeal” (p. 76), a formula that many of today’s news sources use to engage and keep audiences. As a reader, it’s important not to get caught up in the emotion, but to read the entire story and search for the facts.

Exercise:

In the interest of full disclosure, the following article has a misleading headline (if you snore, it's not necessarily cause for panic). Begin by reading the article.

Screenshot of article from the U.S. Sun titled 'SNORE OFF - If you snore you could be THREE TIMES more likely to die of coronavirus, docs warn'
Choose a headline that more appropriately reflects the article's message.

Supporting sources

"Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story" (IFLA, 2017).

Many sources of misinformation are created using features that would pass checklist methods of evaluation—this includes linking to/citing sources. However, many times these links are not what they appear to be, sometimes pointing to stories from reputable sources that have little to do with the argument being made (or completely refuting that argument). Other times, these links will direct the reader to other content on the source’s site. For this reason, it’s important to check at least a few links/sources to see if they are legit.

Is it a joke?

"If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure" (IFLA, 2017).

Some stories are created simply to be humorous. If you’re not familiar with a source and suspect that it may be satirical in nature, check Wikipedia’s list of satirical news websites to see if it appears.

Exercise:

Explore each of the following sources and select those that come from satirical sites.

Ask the experts

"Ask a librarian, or consult a fact-checking site" (IFLA, 2017).

EMU Librarians are happy to assist you in evaluating sources. Go to the library’s Ask a Librarian page to find ways in which you can connect with us.

A list of reputable fact-checking sites can be accessed at https://webliteracy.pressbooks.com/chapter/fact-checking-sites/.

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Choose ONE of the articles below to evaluate based on what you've learned in this lesson.


Congratulations! You've completed the evaluating news lesson.

If you require proof of completion, enter your name in the form below, then select "Print."

Note any problematic areas that you've found (remember, you won't necessarily consider all of the criteria for every resource), then decide whether you would share it or not.

Problems noted when considering the following criteria? (Select all that apply)





Would you share the article?
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About this lesson

Last updated: February 17, 2022
For information, contact:

Bill Marino
Associate Professor, Online Learning Librarian
Eastern Michigan University
[email protected]
(734) 487-2514

Image credits:
  1. "Press-camera-the crowd-journalist" by Engin_Akyurt. Pixabay license.
  2. "Citizen journalism." CC BY-SA by Quinn Dombrowski.
  3. "Local and national newspapers." CC-BY by Ian Lamont.
  4. "Peaceful protesters with signs." CC-BY by .RGB.
  5. Open Street Map CARTO. Available at https://cchisholm.carto.com/builder/d74181a0-3a7e-11e7-a896-0e233c30368f/embed?state=%7B%22map%22%3A%7B%22ne%22%3A%5B22.187404991398786%2C-136.53808593750003%5D%2C%22sw%22%3A%5B51.15178610143037%2C-55.19531250000001%5D%2C%22center%22%3A%5B38.08268954483802%2C-95.86669921875001%5D%2C%22zoom%22%3A5%7D%7D.
  6. Photo by Josh Felise on StockSnap
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