News Literacy 101: Our Guide to Deciphering Between Real and Fake News
By: Ariel Wodarcyk
As a journalist, it’s sort of crushing to see the amount of backlash the press has been getting lately; but it’s also completely understandable. The term fake news has been thrown around so much, whether it’s been in reference to actually made-up news, or just news that doesn’t flatter a certain administration. Below, we’ve gathered some tips on how to separate the real, from the fake.
Look at different news sources
If a big story is only being covered by one news outlet, it may be that that outlet scooped everyone else and is doing a great job journalistically. If that’s the case, wonderful. Being the only source covering a particular story can lend some credibility issues though; if the story seems important, why aren’t other news publications covering it? The reporter world is tightknit, and we’re living in an administration where almost everything is tweeted out immediately, so news travels pretty fast. If it’s a real, important story, it will be covered by multiple news outlets. Some publications may have bigger teams and get to the story faster, but eventually word will spread. Always check multiple sources to verify a story.
Look at headlines
The next time you see a story from a fishy-looking news outlet, take a look at their website. Do the headlines seem clickbait-y (like they’re trying to bait you to click on the article so their website page can get more views)? Do they seem to dramatize issues, or be highly opinionated despite not being tagged as an opinion piece? When researching fake news sources for this article, I saw a lot of very loud headlines. Headlines that read like angry tweets and started with all-cap exclamations of “OUCH!” and “TRUMP ON FIRE!”. Not all, but most, reputable sources keep news headlines neutral. They let the story speak for itself, rather than intensify it with exclamation points and bold language. This is called fluffing the story, which is fine for opinion pieces; not so much for a news article.
Check dates and timestamps
This is a mistake I’ve been guilty of making. Sometimes, a politician’s old Tweet or an article highlighting the controversial bill they attempted to pass in 2007, will make its way back onto the TL. That’s not to say old news can’t be important; sometimes it very much is. But it’s important to know the news is old, and not treat it as a recent issue that requires immediate action. This often happens with natural disasters or human tragedies; people will retweet articles about a horrific tsunami, encouraging people to donate money to rebuild the affected community, only to find out that the tsunami actually took place back in 2010, or that the pictures in the post are just compilations of photos taken during many different tsunamis. Get your tsunamis straight, everyone.
There are great small news outlets there that provide completely verified information. There are also fairly large news outlets that spew dangerous false rhetoric. The size of the outlet’s following doesn’t make it much easier to determine whether you’re reading fake news or not. Sometimes the credentials of the writers are what make a difference, or the kinds of ads the publication shows.
Some of our fave verified sources: