“Research lately shows teens are 'accidental' news consumers,” says Candace Bowen, journalism professor at Kent State University. But even the right news sources can give false or biased information. When reading a news story, there are always certain things to look out for.
“Any word that seems to state something is unequivocal – every Muslim, no Christians, etc.,” explains Bowen, who tends to double check most facts. She strongly believes and tries to teach her students to question authority. Other than keywords, she tries to spot holes in the story, asking herself 'how' and 'why' something can be missing. One of her tricks is to look for context to put the story in perspective.
“Don't trust just one source, and watch as a story unfolds,” says Bowen. According to her, the best way to fact check is to check multiple sources. Using the example of the Boston Marathon bombing, Bowen explains how they watched local news, network news, listened to NPR, and followed several news websites including AP. All the news sources were racing to publish news, and many were not checking the facts. In the end it was clear who waited for good sources before they published valuable stories.
“Some (news sources) are more credible than others because they seem to value credibility and ethics,” Bowen says, “but even those get it wrong sometimes, so I keep checking.” Also, Bowen encourages her students to read more. The more journalism students read, the better they will assess what others are writing.
“The instantaneous video feeds in war zones are becoming more and more suspect, especially when live video footage just happens to be filmed on the spot with crying and screaming little kids,” says Tony Ozuna, dean of the School of Journalism at Anglo American University. He warns readers about such videos and points out that it is common for these videos to show up when the 'bad' guys are dropping bombs. However, when the 'good guys' drop the bombs, only satellite images of direct hits are shown.
“The phrase 'shocked the international community' has been used frequently in recent years,” Ozuna says. “Whenever I see this phrase, now it just means to me that the boys in Washington were very upset about it.” Ozuna, who used to work as a journalist for the Prague Post, points out that the phrase is only used in selective conflicts that affect America.
“They can all make mistakes, and they do,” says Ozuna when asked about news sources that are generally correct. “I read the International New York Times every morning, and I find mistakes sometimes.”
“I see more regularly what is left out of a story, or prior events that are over-looked, though they are significant to understand the current crisis situation fully,” explains Ozuna who believes that age has helped him decipher what he reads in the news better than anything else, including experience.
It is true that the more you read and the more experience you have, the better you will get at quickly spotting bias or misleading information in the news. But even a beginner news consumer can follow simple guidelines:
- Watch for buzzwords. It's important to pay attention to words and terms that are vaguely-defined, such as “the Christian agenda” or “the homosexual agenda”.
- Determine whether the writer labels the reader or those he is writing about. You should feel concerned if an article is trying to get you to identify with a certain group or group mentality. These groups can be anything from “fathers” to “employed people” or “intelligent people”. Labeling groups can be used to make a group seem good or bad.
- Pay attention to the photos and other media that come with the article. As Ozuna mentions, videos can be used to influence our emotions. Photos can be used to make someone look a certain way. Writers’ opinions can show based on the photos they choose.
Good writers will always show two sides of a conflict or situation. They will also avoid vague information and number estimates and will provide precise statistics from reliable sources. News stories about current events gain credibility when they briefly summarize the past conflicts that led up to what is currently happening.
When it comes to double checking data, there are several options. For general news stories it's good to check several different larger news sources, however it is possible that they are quoting each other. Several good websites for double checking general or economic statistics are: