In today’s world of click-bait, Facebook and ‘alternative facts,’ it can be difficult to know what information is true, and what isn’t. Students wishing to find reliable information should focus on reputable, established outlets while avoiding information from unknown sources.
“The simplest thing to do is rely on time tested, valid, news outlets,” said Professor John Pantalone, journalism department chair. “When you’re reading the New York Times, you know you’re reading the New York Times. When you’re reading skippydoo.com, you don’t know who you’re reading.”
While it may seem simple from that perspective, Pantalone said that when dealing with websites or television, as opposed to than print journalism, things can become more complicated. A person who reads any news online should make sure to ask themselves several questions, according to Pantalone.
“[Be careful] if it’s something you don’t recognize, like someone who doesn’t know what breitbart.com is,” Pantalone said. “If you get something from the Wall Street Journal you know it’s the Wall Street Journal, but if you get something from breitbart.com you might not be able to figure out that it’s a politcal advocacy organization of extreme conservatives.”
While focusing on time-tested news sources can help students to find stories they can trust, Barbara Meagher, journalism professor at URI, said that students should make sure to go beyond news outlets that they frequent.
“You should look to consume news from outside of your comfort zone,” Meagher said. “It does come back to the consumer of news. You can’t just follow people you already agree with. I think that’s how a lot of fake news got through, because people wanted to believe the stuff that they found believable just because they already had that point of view.”
In the world of the internet however, students often prefer to sift through the massive amount of free news rather than pay money for subscriptions to reliable sources of journalism. Sorting through these stories requires readers to pay more attention to what they’re reading, as well as to ask themselves about every story.
Who are the sources cited, and why should I believe them? What is the evidence and how was it vetted? What’s missing? These are all questions that a reader should keep in mind while reading news from a source they have never encountered before.
“It’s what reporters are supposed to do,” Pantalone said. “Now readers and viewers need to do it.”
Pantalone explained that a professor at Merrimack College, Melissa Zimdars, produced a publically available list during the election season. Titled “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical ‘News’ Sources,” the list contains concise and defined looks at a variety of online news sources, as well as tips for analyzing websites.
Observing domain names, observing if mainstream news outlets are covering the story, and checking the ‘about us’ tabs on a website are just a few of the methods Zimdars suggests as methods towards checking a website’s validity.
“A lot of these tricky people have figured out a way to get attention, and she is saying ‘look out for this’,” Pantalone said. “Abcnews.com.co, that’s not ABC News’ website. Cnnnext.com is not real. So there are a lot of people who do things like that where they take a well known item like CNN and add something to it. It’s easy to be fooled. So when you are looking at something that somebody shared on facebook you should go to the actual site and check it out.”