Each student briefly explained the legal issue — who was involved in the case and what the charges were. But only one said what the source of the news story was.
At the end of class, I talked with the instructor about the overall class and asked if he required students to identify the source of the news story they shared in the written assignment they turned in for participation points. No, he said. He didn’t want to make the assignment “too complicated.”
I suggested that he had a teaching opportunity to help the students recognize the importance of knowing where they were getting their information.
There was a time when news sources were quite limited by today’s news options. If you were aware of a news item, you typically could say the news source because it was going to be from the local newspaper or from one of just a few television stations or one of a few area radio stations. National Public Radio wasn’t created until 1970, and the Internet wasn’t accessible for a mass audience until the 1990s.
Even in those pre-Internet and pre-NPR days, sometimes there could be confusion about whether the item was “news” or was an editorial or the view of a columnist. Journalists would say that the design of the newspaper pages or the setup of a television newscast should make that distinction clear to their readers and listeners, but that wasn’t always true.
Now with hundreds of television channels and thousands of news-related news sites and podcasts, many of us don’t know where we read or heard a particular news story.
Was it from the website of a mainstream news organization like USA Today or The New York Times or from Facebook or a link that was shared on Twitter? Even if we start off reading, listening to or watching a fact-checked story, we can click on a link in the story or open another tab on our tablet or phone and wind up on a completely different website. The website could even be run by individuals creating (meaning making up) content for profit and not letting facts get in the way of their stories.
Even mainstream news sites may mix in items about celebrity fashion, for example, in the midst of news stories.
Some television and radio stations flow between news coverage and commentary.
In listening to the eight students present their “news” stories, I thought about the potential lack of accuracy of the news we are consuming. Do we know if that information is accurate? Do we know if the information presents balance or sources who have adequate knowledge to speak on a topic?
Purposefully designed fake news that is intended to create misunderstanding is an issue we all should be concerned about. We may have different points of view, but we should want our personal views to be based on facts and not on fiction (even if we like the view of that fiction).
I offer five tips to help us be more insightful in our awareness of the news we consume.
Tip #1 – Know where you are getting the news.
Be aware of the television channel, radio station, news site or social media outlet where you are reading or listening to the story. That also means that we should be aware of the biases and ethics of the individual or news organization.
Tip #2 – Confirm the story.
If the information you are reading or listening to is going to affect your opinion or actions, confirm the information with another source. This is especially important for you as a news sharer. Whether you are going to talk about what you’ve just read with colleagues at work or tweet the link, share accurate information.
Tip #3 – Check the date of the story.
When you’re reading and viewing sites online, you aren’t always getting the latest information. In doing a search on a topic, your search may yield the most frequently viewed stories and those may be older stories. Be sure to check the date the story was posted. You may need to keep searching to find the updated information.
Tip #4 – Beware of deceptive headlines.
Click-bait headlines are the headlines that lure us to clicking on the headline to read the story. We’ve all had the experience of getting to the story and finding that the headline was misleading – purposefully so to get us to the story. What’s really bad about those click-bait headlines is that we may believe the headline and not read the story at all. So don’t believe those sensational headlines. And back to Tip #1, know where you’re getting your news so you are aware of potential biases.
Tip #5 – Avoid being in a news echo chamber.
We may say we’re well informed because we’re getting our news from a variety of sources. But if all of our sources have the same point of view, we’re in an echo chamber. We may be unaware of – or unfairly dismiss – other important views on a topic or issue.
We now can make so many decisions about how and when we get our news.
We have the potential to curate our own news from the organizations, bloggers, social media and news sites that we choose. And we can get our “news” 24/7. No waiting until the morning newspaper is delivered or waiting until the 6 o’clock newscast.
With the added control of our news intake that we now have, we need to strive to be informed consumers of factual news.
For those of us who are teaching, we should incorporate, as appropriate, media literacy into our courses and assignments. For the teaching assistant I observed who assigned his class to make reports about legal issues covered in the news, he could include, in the assignment directions. the expectation that the student will know what the source of the story is. He also could spend a few minutes in class as he makes the assignment talking about the importance of determining the credibility of news sources.