Did you see that story this week that says a new poll shows half of Americans believe national news organizations purposely mislead or misinform the public? The poll and the subsequent report were conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that studies the news media and its issues.
“Americans don’t seem to think that the national news organizations care about the overall impact of their reporting on the society,” said John Sands, Knight’s senior director for media and democracy, in an Associated Press story about the poll.
The public was a little gentler on local news operations, such as The Columbian, saying they trust us more than the national media. That doesn’t surprise me, as you are much more likely to know us. Knowledge builds trust.
Now, I’ve never worked at a national news organization — such as The Wall Street Journal, CNN or ABC News. But I’ve had friends and colleagues who went on to jobs at The Washington Post, The New York Times and the AP. They’re good people and good journalists, and I have a great deal of trust that they and their newsrooms are doing the best they can to present the news to their audiences.
But rather than get defensive, I wanted to write about how wary news consumers, like myself, can examine an information source to decide if it is trustworthy.
- How did I come across the story? We know that most people get their news online these days. When you look online, you most likely leave “cookies,” and partisans can use the crumbs to find an audience for anything they want to push. In other words, beware of online “news” that finds you.
- Is it from a source I recognize? We all know the big names in media: The Associated Press, CBS News, etc. These mainstream sources have editing, fact-checking and ethics policies in place. They have reputations and history. Beware of sources you don’t recognize, particularly on social media. Watch carefully for “pink slime” websites that sound like the name of a news organization but are actually propaganda sites run by who-knows for who-knows-what-reason. (I’m aware of at least two of these sites targeting Vancouver.)
- Are the sources clearly identified? Names and sources of information should be clearly identified and easily verifiable with an online search.
- If the story is online, are source materials linked? Online stories should contain links to source materials. For example, I included a link to the Gallup-Knight Foundation report in the first paragraph of this story.
- Is it in line with what other media are reporting? Sometimes a news organization can get a scoop, but in these information-overload days, a story that counters the trend should be scrutinized. If mainstream media are reporting the United States shot down a Chinese spy balloon, but you get fed a story claiming it was a UFO, I think you ought to go with the mainstream source.
- If the story seems biased, why do I think that? This one is a little tougher, because it requires you to consider your own implicit bias. Here’s an example: I get occasional calls or emails about stories that, in the reader’s opinion, are “woke” or too “politically correct.” Admittedly, you wouldn’t have seen these stories 10 or 20 years ago. But today, efforts toward diversity and inclusion are everywhere: on the lips of public officials and civic leaders, on the agendas of public meetings, and on the lesson plans at public schools. Personally, I think that is a good thing. Even if you don’t, it’s our duty to report what is going on.
There’s a lot of news and information out there. It’s tough to determine what is trustworthy. But rather than make a blanket judgment, I would say instead to consider the source.
Source: Craig Brown for The Columbian