Evaluating News Sources

Learn how to identify misleading news sources, and develop critical evaluation skills.

News Overview

Overview: How news journalism is different ... from rumor, hearsay, advertising, entertainment, opinion and propaganda....

Anyone might produce news, but there is a difference between news journalism and other kinds of public information. 

Purpose to inform.   All of kinds of communication may include information, or even facts, but the purposes are different.

For example, the purpose of rumors and hearsay is often to sway opinion on the topic or sometimes just to improve the social standing of the person spreading this kind of information. Advertising, propaganda and entertainment, too, have obvious purposes, as do expressions of opinion.

News journalism’s purpose is to provide verified information so that people can participate in society and make decisions.

Verified Information.  News journalists go to great lengths to check their information. They confirm information with more than one source and they consider whether the sources are reliable and what motivation might be behind the sharing or withholding of certain information.

Objective Methods.   News journalists follow protocols and procedures to ensure that the information they report is as precise, detailed and complete as possible. They try to gather information from all sides of a story, and they show how or where they gathered the information, so people can come to their own conclusions. 

Importantly, journalists themselves are aware that they are humans who cannot be free of bias, so they rely on objective methods to make sure their reporting is accurate.

Kinds of Journalism.  When we compare a story from the Associated Press (AP) to something from, for example, The Atlantic magazine, we immediately see that there are many kinds of journalism, not just straight news.

Some media organizations take on goals in addition to the main purpose and principles mentioned above, such as advocacy journalism, investigative journalism, or news analysis, among many others. As long as they are still committed to accuracy, independence and accountability, we can say they are practicing a kind of journalism.

“Alternative facts” Journalism. Many information outlets claim to be doing journalism but are not honoring a purpose to inform, nor practicing verification and objectivity. This kind of journalism goes by many names, including propaganda, yellow journalism, PR, spin, pseudo-news, faux news and fake news.

This section relies on information from the following sources: