I think we all agree that access to information has never been easier. With the click of a button, we can access an endless stream of news, opinions, and perspectives from a variety of sources. However, this abundance of information also poses a significant challenge: how do we know what to believe and what to dismiss as misinformation or propaganda?
With the rise of fake news and the proliferation of social media, it is more important than ever to be able to critically evaluate the information that we encounter. The consequences of accepting false or misleading information can range from harmless misperceptions to serious policy decisions based on inaccurate information.
The purpose of this article is to provide a guide to critically evaluate news and media sources, to help you make informed decisions and avoid being misled. The article will explore the importance of considering factors such as the source, the motivations behind the message, and the evidence presented. By equipping people with the tools to critically evaluate news and media sources, we can help to promote a more informed and engaged society.
Start thinking critically by understanding the source
In today’s media landscape, it is crucial to be aware of the sources of the information you are receiving. This includes understanding the ownership and funding of the media outlet, as well as the motivations behind the content they produce.
Media ownership influences the content
Media ownership can have a significant impact on the type of content that is produced and shared with the public.
For example, a media outlet owned by a political or business organization may have a vested interest in promoting certain viewpoints or opinions, leading to a bias in their reporting.
Understanding the ownership of a media outlet can provide valuable insight into the motivations behind the content they produce.
A while back we wrote an article about a fascinating study conducted by Stanford University. The study aimed to compare the skills of 10 Ph.D. historians, 10 professional fact checkers, and 25 Stanford University undergraduates in evaluating websites on social and political issues.
Here is a summary of the steps we included there and which you should take in order to evaluate online sources (for more details, head directly to that article):
Before you dive into any online material, it’s always a good idea to do a little background check on the organization that published it. First, head over to their About page and see what you can find. You can also do a quick search on Google to see what other people are saying about them. Remember, don’t be fooled by a fancy name, logo or website design. These things don’t necessarily reflect the organization’s true intentions or integrity.
Take a closer look at the content itself, and don’t be swayed by its presentation. Just because something looks good doesn’t mean it’s reliable. Look beyond the graphics and layout, and focus on the substance of the material.
If the About Us section doesn’t provide any clues about the organization’s interests or funding sources, it’s time to do a little digging. Google the organization and look for credible sources of information. You can also check out Forbes’ list of reputable sources, or consider using SourceWatch.
To make your Google search more effective, try putting the organization’s name in quotes and adding the specific element you’re looking for.
“Swedish College of Paediatricians” funding
“Swedish College of Paediatricians” who is behind
With a little bit of research, you’ll be able to evaluate the material with a critical eye and make informed decisions about what to trust. Good luck!
Funding sources can put pressure on producing content that aligns with hidden agendas
It is also important to consider the funding sources of a media outlet. News and media organizations that rely on advertising or government funding may face pressure to produce content that aligns with the interests of these sources, leading to a potential bias in their reporting. On the other hand, news and media organizations that are funded through subscriptions or philanthropy may have more independence and be more likely to produce objective and unbiased content.
When evaluating a news or media source, it is also essential to consider the motivations behind their content. This includes understanding their mission statement, values, and goals as an organization. By doing so, you can better understand their perspective and the potential biases that may be present in their reporting.
To determine the credibility of a news or media source, it is important to look for certain markers of quality journalism. This includes considering their reputation, the experience and credentials of their journalists, and their track record of accuracy and impartiality in their reporting. Additionally, it is helpful to look for a diversity of sources and viewpoints in their reporting, as well as evidence-based information and fact-checking. By critically examining these markers, you can make an informed decision on the reliability of a news or media source.
Use critical thinking in evaluating the content
To effectively evaluate the content of news and media sources, it’s important to employ a critical lens when analysing the information being presented. This includes fact-checking and critically examining sources to ensure their credibility.
One way to fact-check information is to verify the information presented in a news story with multiple reputable sources. This can be done by utilizing fact-checking websites, such as PolitiFact or FactCheck.org, or by conducting independent research.
It’s also important to consider the context of a story and to avoid sensationalism, as this can lead to distorted or exaggerated information being presented.
In addition to fact-checking, it’s important to recognize and evaluate any biases and propaganda that may be present in the news or media source.
This can involve analysing the language and tone used in the story, as well as considering the motivations behind the story being presented. For example, a news source that is heavily funded by a particular political party or interest group may present information that is biased in favour of that group’s perspective.
Understand what is not being said
One method that biased media organisations employ to create a certain narrative is to simply not cover relevant topics. An example is a right-leaning newspaper in the UK not discussing a controversial policy of the Tory government that many people are opposed to. This tactic, known as “agenda-setting“, allows biased media organizations to selectively cover news stories that align with their preconceived narrative or political views. By omitting certain stories, they can manipulate public opinion and push a particular agenda.
Example #1 – right-leaning UK newspaper not covering Tory scandal
In the example of the right-leaning UK newspaper, by not covering the controversial policy of the Tory government, they are able to avoid drawing attention to potential negative aspects of the policy and avoid any potential backlash from their readership who may be opposed to the policy. This tactic allows biased media organizations to control the narrative and selectively report on news stories that align with their agenda.
However, it is important for you to be aware of this tactic and seek out alternative sources of news to gain a more balanced perspective, in this case maybe a left-leaning publication. By seeking out diverse viewpoints and considering multiple sources, you can avoid being manipulated by biased media organizations and make more informed decisions. It is also important for media organizations to strive for impartiality and transparency in their reporting to maintain the public’s trust and ensure that they are providing accurate and comprehensive coverage of important news stories.
Example #2 – selective reporting on climate change
Another example of biased media organizations selectively omitting news stories to push a particular agenda is the case of climate change denial. There are some media organizations that have a history of downplaying or outright denying the existence of climate change, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.
These media organizations may avoid reporting on important scientific studies or events related to climate change, and instead focus on stories that promote the idea that climate change is not a real or pressing issue. By doing so, they are able to push a particular narrative that aligns with their political or business interests, and avoid any negative attention or push-back that may come from acknowledging the reality and urgency of climate change.
Once again, it is important for readers to be aware of this tactic and seek out diverse sources of news and information to gain a more balanced perspective on important issues like climate change
By critically evaluating the source and content of news and media, you can develop a more nuanced and informed perspective on the events and issues being discussed. This is a crucial step in avoiding the spread of misinformation and promoting a more informed and engaged society.
As the world becomes increasingly saturated with information, it is essential that we take an active role in critically evaluating the news and media sources we encounter. By taking a critical approach to the information we receive, we can make more informed decisions and protect ourselves against the spread of misinformation and propaganda.
Become media literate
One of the first steps you can take is to become media literate. This involves having a basic understanding of the media landscape, including the role of media ownership and funding in shaping content. It also involves being able to identify potential biases and recognizing the motivations behind news and media outlets.
For example, you can check the main media sources you’re already following and examine the types of stories they cover, how they frame those stories, and whether they present multiple perspectives.
Evaluate the content
In addition to being media literate, you can also take specific steps to critically evaluate the content of news and media sources. This can involve fact-checking and critically examining the sources of information, as well as being mindful of the potential for sensationalism and considering the context in which the information is presented.
Another important step is to examine the language and framing used in news and media sources. This can involve paying attention to the words and phrases used to describe events, people, and issues, and recognizing how they may influence public opinion or perpetuate biases.
It’s also important to consider the broader social and political context in which news and media is produced and consumed. This can involve understanding how media is influenced by economic and political forces, as well as recognizing the ways in which media can shape public opinion and impact policy decisions.
Reap the benefits
The benefits of critically evaluating news and media sources are numerous. It can lead to the formation of more informed opinions, a greater understanding of the world, and the ability to recognize manipulation and propaganda. By taking an active role in evaluating the information you receive, you can protect yourself against the spread of misinformation and promote critical thinking.
With the abundance of information available at our fingertips, it can be challenging to separate fact from fiction and understand the motivations behind the messages we receive.
Throughout this article, we have explored the importance of considering the source of information, analysing the content, and applying practical techniques to evaluate news and media sources.
By staying vigilant and actively questioning the information we encounter, we can all ensure that we make informed decisions and protect ourselves from the dangers of misinformation and manipulation.