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BIOL 101: Biological Concepts

Questions to ask yourself about news sources

News sources are usually considered primary sources and are excellent for finding information about an event around the time that it occurred.

With the recent popularity of satirical and left-/right-leaning news sources, it has become more difficult to determine whether a story is legitimate, accurate, and unbiased. Carefully consider the author, publication, date, and purpose of a source before trusting it.

This list of six questions from Tom Rosenstiel at the American Press Institute will help you assess the credibility of news items:

  1. Type: What kind of content is this? Distinguishing between opinion pieces/editorials, news stories, and other types of items that pop up in the news, such as advertisements, is key to determining how and if they can be useful.
  2. Source: Who and what are the sources cited and why should I believe them? If it's not clear where the author got their information, it's a red flag. Consider who the sources might be, too -- are they appropriate to speak to the subject at hand?
  3. Evidence: What's the evidence and how was it vetted? Rosenstiel describes evidence as "the proof that the sources offer for what they know." More evidence is good, and credible news stories will be transparent about what their evidence is.
  4. Interpretation: Is the main point of the piece proven by the evidence? Does the logic between the sources, evidence, and main point line up, or is the author speculating/jumping to their own conclusions?
  5. Completeness: What's missing? Are important pieces of information left out without explanation? That's a problem.
  6. Knowledge: Am I learning every day what I need? This one is less about individual sources, and more about you. Consider what questions you have about what you've read. Consider whether you understand an issue well enough to explain it to others. If not, read more.

Note: questions in bold are direct quotes from Rosenstiel's article.

Identifying Fake News

The 2016 presidential election brought the issue of fake news further into the spotlight than ever before. For additional tips on determining the authenticity of news sources, see the video and links below.

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