How to Know When to Trust the News

By Gennifer Harding-Gosnell

With state and midterm national elections coming in November, the political landscape is being inundated with more campaign coverage than ever. Much of this coverage will come from news sources that have reputations for biases.

The more you know about “how” to read the news, the better sources you will choose to believe, and the more exposure you will have to the truth. Here are some helpful tips to guide you through the next few months of constant political coverage:

  • Transparency – Does the article you’re reading link to sources? Can the information be verified in more than one way? Who are the subject matter experts they interview about political topics, and where do they come from? Follow links in news stories and see where they lead; are they academic sources? Local? Don’t automatically believe what you can’t trace.
  • National Wire Services – An industry-wide diminishing of journalist jobs and resources means many local news outlets rely more on a national news wire service, and may have little influence over the national stories that post to their websites and social media feeds. These wire services can often be the places where inflammatory news and opinion comes from that appears on your local news feed, and may not be reflective of the outlet’s own editorial philosophy.
  • “Both Sides-ism” Is Not Real –  So much of the public’s distrust of the media revolves around the notion of bias against or in favor of one of the two main political ideologies. The media has a responsibility to report the truth. If you only have two sides and one of them is not telling the truth, then you really only have one side. There are, more often than not, several sides; and more than just two solutions.
  • The Influence Of Adjectives and Adverbs – These are descriptor words. A blue car, a flame burning wildly. Does the article you’re reading use a lot of these words, especially words that describe emotions or pass judgment? The writer may be trying to influence you to perceive the story in a specific way.
    •  For example, does the sentence read like this?“The Mayor of Green Falls called out the treasurer’s behavior.” Or more like this? “The Mayor of Green Falls called out the treasurer’s despicable behavior.” It is not the media’s job to tell you the treasurer’s behavior was despicable. It is their job to give you a picture of what happened so you can decide for yourself if the treasurer’s behavior was despicable or not. If you’re reading a newspaper, get a pen and cross out all the adjectives and adverbs in a story. What’s left should be the actual news story.

Gennifer Harding-Gosnell is a writer for the Cleveland Observer and a member of the Cleveland Documenters. She holds a BA from Cleveland State University, a MA in Journalism from Kingston University in the UK, and British National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) professional qualifications.