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JOUR 110: Fundamentals of Journalism

Four Moves and a Habit

 

For more information on this process go to Mike Caulfield's Web literacy for Student Fact-Checkers.

Steps to Evaluating News Sources

Your first step when evaluating a source is to see if anyone has already verified the information in the article. There are many fact-checking sites that may have already evaluated the news story. 

Snopes

Factcheck.org

PolitiFacts

Washington Post Fact Checker

Go to one (or as many as needed) of these sites and enter the main claim of the article you are evaluating in the search box. Most of these sites will explain why a claim may or may not be false or misleading. You do not have to accept these reasons, but it gives you more information about the claim. 

Exercise

Check for previous work fact-checking one piece of this year's State of the Union address. Taken directly from the Transcript

 

The next major priority for me, and for all of us, should be to lower the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs, and to protect patients with preexisting conditions.  (Applause.)

Already, as a result of my administration’s efforts, in 2018, drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years.  (Applause.)

But we must do more.  It’s unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place.  This is wrong, this is unfair, and together we will stop it — and we’ll stop it fast.  (Applause.)

Not every news story is original reporting. Many stories are syndicated (written by a different news outlet like the AP) or borrow information from other stories. Before you question the reliability of a news organization, it is valuable to go upstream and find the original source. 

There are several ways to find the original source:

  1. Follow links and references.
    • Responsible news sites do not try to hide where they are getting their information.
    • If they are using a syndicated story, that will be noted in the author information.
    • If they are borrowing information, there should be links or at least mentioning of a source within the article. 
  2. Google the headline.
    • See if other stories covering the same event were written before the story you found.
    • Take a look at the language the oldest of these stories uses to describe the event. Does it sound similar to the story you found? If so, you probably found the original source.
    • Evaluate if you trust this source.
  3. Reverse Image Search. 
    • Unsure of an image you found on the web? There are ways to find the original image and check to see it has been photoshopped or used out of context.
    • Right-click/ control-click on the image and click "Search Google for Image" (Chrome). 
    • Track down the original image and decided if the source you found accurately represents the original image
    • For more information on how to search for images, go to Mike Caulfield's Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers

Exercise

Is the information you find as you scroll accurate? Helpful? How do you check?

The Flint Fire Hydrant

    Fires in the Amazon Rain Forest

Sometimes you have to look beyond the article or news site to evaluate the quality of the source you have found. You can often learn more about a source by finding out what others are saying about the site. 

  • Going to the "About" page is a useful starting point, but if the site is suspicious, they are unlikely to admit that on their own site. 
  • Search for what others have said about the site. Do you trust that organization?
  • You can also search for the organization or person that sponsors/owns the site that you are evaluating. If that is not clear on the site, you can go to ICANN WHOIS and search for who registered the domain. 

Exercise: 

Do you trust this website? 

https://www.stopkillerrobots.org/

 

If you get lost in the process or are getting increasingly frustrated, take a breath, and start at the beginning. You now know more about the problem and are likely to find more as you start over. 

Check your feelings

Do you feel a rising sense of happiness, anger, pride or vindication as you read a story? If yes, this is when it is vital for you to stop and run through the four steps of fact-checking. Always be aware of how a story is affecting your emotions. 

We are more likely to believe and share content that triggers an emotional response. And those who write misleading news are well aware of this trend. They are more than happy to use emotionally charged language to push their story on your news feeds, regardless of the facts. 

 

How can you recognize your feelings? Drawing on lessons from mindfulness training will help. 

  1. Stop. Focus. and Breathe. This will give you some space from what you are reading to let you honestly evaluate how the story is making you feel. 
  2. Figure out how much and how you interact with the news. I bet it is more than you think. Check yourself by keeping a log every time you encounter a piece of news (even if it is just for a single day).