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Fake News: Learning to Critically Evaluate Media Sources

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." --Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Newsweek, 25 August 1986, p. 27.

Media Bias

The term fake news has become more complicated as it gets conflated with media bias and other criticisms of mainstream media. Use of the term has become a way to discredit news sources that an individual disagrees with.


Factual Reporting vs. News Analysis 

"Evaluating news sources is one of the more contentious issues out there. People have their favorite news sources and don't like to be told that their news source is untrustworthy.

For fact-checking, it's helpful to draw a distinction between two activities:

  • News Gathering, where news organizations do investigative work, calling sources, researching public documents, checking and publishing facts, e.g. the getting the facts of Bernie Sanders involvement in the passage of several bills.
  • News Analysis, which takes those facts and strings them into a larger narrative, such as 'Senator Sanders an effective legislator behind the scenes" or 'Senator Sanders largely ineffective Senator behind the scenes.'

Most newspaper articles are not lists of facts, which means that outfits like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times do both news gathering and news analysis in stories. What has been lost in the dismissal of the New York Times as liberal and the Wall Street Journal as conservative is that these are primarily biases of the news analysis portion of what they do. To the extent the bias exists, it's in what they choose to cover, to whom they choose to talk, and what they imply in the way they arrange those facts they collect. The news gathering piece is affected by this, but in many ways largely separate, and the reputation for fact checking is largely separate as well."

Quoted from Michael A. Caulfield's Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers. 26: Evaluating News Sources.

Check Your Bias

Some organizations research news organizations and evaluate the general accuracy of their news reporting and their political positions. Among these is Ad Fontes Media. Ad Fontes has created and periodically updates a Media Bias Chart which categorizes news sources on two dimensions--accuracy of their factual and investigative reporting on one dimension and, on a second dimension, their editorial positions on a left to right scale. Ad Fontes also exposes their rating methodology.