News Literacy is "the ability to use critical thinking skills to judge the reliability and credibility of news reports, whether they come via print, television, or the internet."--Stony Brook University Center for News Literacy
|Types of Online News||Examples||Characteristics|
|Traditional News Sources||
New York Times
Wall Street Journal
National Public Radio
Posts print stories online as well as breaking news
Includes both news articles as well as opinion pieces
Can include sponsored, paid content and ads
Uses sensationalist headlines to drive user engagement, generate advertising revenue, and encourage forwarding via social media
Uses lists, offers of shocking content, and promises that "you won't believe it until you see it!"
Parodies mainstream news sources
Relies heavily on irony and dark humor to entertain
Presents fictionalized news stories, sometimes for profit, sometimes to promote disinformation, sometimes to promote a political, economic, or social agenda
Seeks to mislead rather than to entertain
Seeks to profit from readers' gullibility
Gains readers by spoofing traditional news sources
Thank you to Erinn Salge, KT Lowe, and Beth Hoppe who generously allowed me to reuse and modify some of the information on this libguide.
1. How do you feel? After reading an online news article, assess your emotional response. If you have an extreme emotional response like anger, you may want to assess the accuracy of the article further. Fake news sources are often meant to evoke strong emotion so readers forward their content without thinking it through. Or, if an article is outrageous but validates your worst fears, check your "confirmation bias"--the tendency for human beings to interpret new information as confirmation of their own beliefs even if it is false.
2. Identify what you are reading, even if you are on a traditional news site. Is it an opinion piece? News reporting? An editorial? A review? A feature story? A blog? Some of these types of writing are meant to present an argument, while the function of news reporting is simply to report the facts as they are known.
3. Use what you know to evaluate the source. Think through TOECAP, the criteria we use to evaluate web sources at MICDS (see the column on the right for a review). You can use this criteria to evaluate any kind of online source.
4. At the very least, consider the author and his or her credentials. Google the author's name to find out what kind of background he or she has, and prioritize those who are journalists or often publish in respected publications. If there is no author listed, this should be a warning sign.
5. Cut back the URL to find the home page for the site. Look for an "About Us" tab to find out more about the mission of the site or organization. Be careful of sites ending in "co" or "lo"--people are buying up sites that look like traditional news sites and adding these domains to mislead viewers. For example, abcnews.com.co is a fake news site.
6. Are there typos, or grammatical or spelling errors? This may tell you whether the source has an editorial staff. The employment of editors is a mark of respect for readers, showing that they care enough about their content and reputation to check and double-check their stories.
7. Are there multiple perspectives shared? Good journalists know that they should not only interview a Democrat or a Republican on a political issue; both perspectives need to be shared to give the news article balance and inform their readers.
8. Triangulate! Especially if a piece of news sounds groundbreaking or inflammatory, try to find at least two other sources that echo or reflect the original; this is called "triangulation." If you can't find the story elsewhere, you keep finding it linked back to the original site you found, or you only see it on twitter or facebook, it is probably not trustworthy information.
9. If you're still confused about the credibility of the information, try checking it against a fact checking website, like politifact.org, or factcheck.org. The only concern of these award-winning websites is to provide bias-free information.
10. When in doubt, ask a teacher or librarian; they can help you think through the very confusing world of news right now.
At MICDS, we use the TOECAP criteria to assess any type of online information.
Trustworthy? Ask yourself: Is the information on the site reliable? Who created the site? Is the creator well-known? Should you trust the creator? Where did the creator get the information?
Objective? Ask yourself: Is the objective or subjective? Does the creator of the site have any reason to be biased?
Enough? Ask yourself: Does the site have enough information for you? Is it easy to navigate the site? Is it easy to find the information you need?
Current? How recent is the information on the site? When was it last updated?
Accurate? Ask yourself: Does the information seem right to you, compared to other information you have found? Does it make sense? Does it seem like someone fact-checks and edits the site for minor errors?
Purpose? Ask yourself: What's the purpose of the site? Why was the site created?