More than ever before, understanding and evaluating where our news is coming from should become a matter of course, a necessary practice in our daily lives. But in the age of misinformation, fake news, and clickbait, for many, staying well-informed may feel like an overwhelming undertaking.
Below is a list of practices that I have amassed from my political science and journalism courses over the years that have truly changed how I read and evaluate news.
1. Don’t take a headline at face value
Far too often, posts are shared based solely on the content of its headline.
Read the article.
Read the article before you share it. Evaluate and scrutinize its content and its context, especially if it elicits a strong emotion from you. While good journalism aims to invoke emotion, many look to exploit that by using misinformation and disinformation to create over-sensationalized, fear-mongering, and polarizing content that only seeks to divide rather than inform. So read the article, check its publishing date and its sources, and understand the context in which the information is being presented to you.
2. Watch out for media bias
All media tends to be biased in some way. Different news outlets may present a story differently depending on their political association.
Do your research.
Read multiple accounts of the same issue from various media outlets, and understand that the narrative being shown to you may not always be the right one. Ask yourself, who's providing this information? Who are their sources? Biased sources can still post real news with real facts, but it may be wise to proceed with caution and recognize that it may not be entirely impartial.
3. Read across the aisle
Hear what others have to say on the subject. Take a holistic approach and don't rely solely on media sources that lie strictly within your own political beliefs. No one's asking you to necessarily agree with what others have to say. Nonetheless, in such a politically polarized nation, this may be a small step towards understanding other points of view and gaining a new perspective that was previously unforeseen.
Listening to one another is what facilitates conversation.
Conversation leads to action, and action leads to change.
4. Diversify your sources (and do your own research)
Refrain from getting all of your news from one single source or one single type of source.
There is far more out there than just the mainstream national media outlets.
Tune into your local news station, read articles from your local papers, and look into op-eds or podcasts. Utilize social media responsibly. Consider looking into the sources that the stories themselves are coming from, such as firsthand accounts and interviews, press releases, leaked documents, or any other primary resource that applies to the event. This allows you to evaluate the information yourself, free of any narrative or agenda that it may have been tailored to fit.
5. Take Twitter with a grain of salt (but don’t avoid it completely)
If there's one advantage that Twitter has over other mediums of media, is that it updates in real-time. It's not limited in who can contribute and allows for raw encounters and exchanges to occur that may not have been facilitated elsewhere.
Anyone can shape the narrative, adding a degree of transparency and realness to its content.
But with that accessibility comes those who wish to exploit it, providing the perfect platform for misinformation and disinformation to spread rampantly with little consequence. It all comes down to the scrutiny that you, the reader, has when evaluating this wealth of information. With the right combination of curiosity and caution, you may just find something.
Social media has allowed us to communicate and connect with one another on an inconceivably large scale, making media so very accessible and news an easy commodity to come by. These tips are just a few ways in which you can begin to sift through the abundance of information that sits right at your fingertips. Although a daunting prospect, critically evaluating and understanding the world around you is worth the extra effort. I guarantee you'll quickly see that it's not as overwhelming as it may appear to be.