Who Can You Trust?
More than ever, discerning fact from fiction has become the responsibility of the reader.
By Cassidy Leslie, University of Nevada, Reno
As the number of people who consume their news through internet forums increases, the need to check news sources has grown.
There are many news sites, reporters, bloggers and Facebook friends who hear, see or read their news from unreliable sources, then they share it. They blindly trust news sources and do not check where the information originates, resulting in viral stories and a sense of distrust between society and the media.
There has always been a powerful relationship between the news and the free society, and one cannot function without the other. The job of the journalist is to give objective information to the citizens in a community, so they can make an educated decision on how to govern themselves. Trust is the foundation of the relationship between the public and journalists. If the public cannot trust the news media to give them the objective facts, then the relationship begins to decay.
As a journalism student, nothing is more frustrating than logging onto Facebook and seeing your aunt’s coworker post a news story from some news outlet that doesn’t have correct facts.
What’s even more frustrating is logging on the next day and seeing that coworker complaining about the media not telling the truth and only providing half the facts, which is why I often find myself reviewing news stories on social media, checking sources, fact checking and trying to find the original story on a subject. Once I have finished my investigation, I either comment on Facebook posts with a more credible link, or I am satisfied with what I have discovered.
You may be asking yourself, what can I do to prevent sharing untrustworthy news? Here is a list of questions you can begin asking yourself about where you are getting your news.
1. Is it a credible outlet?
If there is doubt that a news site is credible, start by checking the URL. Make sure that it’s not a mock-up website passing news off as if it is coming from a more legitimate source.
Next, make sure you read the site’s “About Us” section to learn about their mission, ethics and process of finding and reporting facts. If the site is not clear on their fact-finding process, they probably aren’t reliable.
2. Who are the sources?
If you can’t find where a news site got their information, then don’t take their word as fact. Sources are extremely important in the world of media, because they tell you where that piece of information originated.
It also helps strengthen the credibility of the journalist and the company they write for, as sources tell readers that the journalists didn’t just pull information out of thin air. All news outlets should source their information, whether it’s a quote straight out of the president’s mouth or just a fun fact from some organization.
If you’re reading your news online and a site references another online source, chances are they have hyperlinked that source. You should always click the hyperlink and follow its trail to the original article. Once the first source has been found, check its credibility, and then see if the facts match up with the first article you read. If you can’t find where journalists got their information, then you probably shouldn’t share that news story.
3. Does the outlet have biases?
Before consuming your daily news, it’s important to find out if your favorite news outlet leans a certain way. If they do have a bias, then their report will not be completely objective, which can result in the passing along of information that only shows one side of the story.
If you know the outlet leans toward the left side, it allows you, as the consumer, to look for an article of the same topic written by an outlet that leans to the right. By viewing both sides, you’re allowing yourself to find more information on a subject so that you may think objectively. There are a couple websites out there that allow you to view your favorite news outlets and see how they have been rated on their biases. AllSides is a website that will not only show you how your source leans, but also allow you to rate the sources yourself.
4. Has the article been fact-checked?
This question is particularly critical because there are too many people publishing and sharing news without fact-checking it. If you don’t have the time to do the steps above, at least do this one and check before sharing.
The lack of fact-checking is chipping away at the trust between the media and the community, ruining a relationship that has been around for years.
Fact-checking goes beyond checking the sources, because it’s about checking to see if facts are actually true. There are some useful websites, like PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and OpenSecerts.org, that can help you.
Websites that fact-check openly also share the process of how they check their information, and if they haven’t already fact-checked something, you can request them to.
5. Do I need more information about the topic?
Once you’ve found a credible, objective news source that has been fact checked, you should ask yourself, “Do I feel my knowledge on the subject is complete?”
It’s okay if one news source fails to fulfill your need for information, and if it didn’t, seek more articles on the topic. Search for a reporter, who will give you objective information, and then find another one to give you their opinion. There’s nothing wrong with catering your news to match your own opinion, as long as you take the time to get objective facts, so that your knowledge on a subject isn’t pushed by one side.
You should be asking yourself some of these questions while consuming your daily dose of news. By asking questions, you will not only help in saving the trust between society and the media, but you will hold the media to a higher standard of reporting.
Source checking will also prevent the passing along of untrustworthy news, wrong facts and untrue stories. Social media makes it easier to share news with people, but it’s also the easiest way for false, biased news to destroy the trust built between the media and the public. Journalists cannot do their job of providing information if society doesn’t trust them to give the correct information.