News Media Know-how

News Media Know-how

Different sources of information are good for different purposes.  Despite its glaring security issues, TikTok is increasingly being used as a way to search for more socially important information, such as where to find a restaurant or comparing two similar items.  But social media has no filters to determine the accuracy of its content.  For assessing information from non-academic sources, a good grounding in media literacy is essential.

The SIFT Method

One of the more accepted tools in basic media literacy is the SIFT Method.  Developed by Michael Caulfield of the University of Washington, the SIFT Method consists of four sections:

  • Stop
  • Investigate the source
  • Find trusted coverage
  • Trace claims to their original source
A quick pause can be the most useful fact checking tool of all. (Image source: Adobe Stock)

The first step, Stop, is the easiest to do, yet it’s also the easiest to be overlooked.  Simply taking a break to think about the plausibility of a meme or news story, on any platform, can be critical in weeding out bad information quickly.  Most people already have a set of basic critical thinking skills that can help discern good information from bad, and that system is often accurate enough to weed out the worst factual offenders.  In other words, think before sharing.

Always look for good quality sources of information. (Image source: Adobe Stock)

The second, Investigate the Source, can also save a lot of trouble in telling truth from fiction.  Fact checking sites like Snopes, Politifact and can help determine if the Constitution has pronouns in it or not, or if tetanus vaccines are part of a population control scheme.  One of the best features about fact checkers like these is that they cite their sources and show their process in reaching their conclusions.  This way, readers and researchers can examine the evidence and agree or disagree with them. 

Academic databases are excellent sources of vetted, trustworthy information.

Finding trusted coverage can be among the more difficult steps to follow.  What qualifies as a trusted source in this media climate?  Thankfully, tools exist to help identify good quality sources.  The first news sources to consider are our very own academic databases on campus.  These sources have been vetted and often feature peer reviewed sources, and include top databases such as EBSCO, ProQuest and JSTOR.  . They also include Pulitzer Prize winning newspapers, which mean their coverage is among the best in the US.  These news sources include the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.  For non-print media and other sources, Media Bias Fact Check, a crowdsourced site with strong criteria for rating credibility, can offer a quick review of the historic accuracy of a news source.  From mainstream sources such as CBS and CNN to alternative news sources like Alternet, this tool can be used in conjunction with other evidence to determine the credibility of a news source. 

Local news can be the most reliable source for some news stories. (Image source: Adobe Stock)

The last step is probably the least obvious.  Many news stories are reported by news outlets from the locations in which they took place.  Tracing claims back to their original source, like a local newspaper, radio or television station, can help ensure accuracy because the reporters are part of the community.  They may have witnessed the news firsthand, and certainly would have been in the best position to interview those involved, or local authority figures who could provide insight.  While national news organizations will report a local story, a local news source will follow up, offering more information and continuity. 

Lateral reading allows researchers and students to do real-time fact checking. (Image source: Adobe Stock.)

Aside from the SIFT Method, another technique to use is lateral reading.  This is a fact-checking technique that uses two Internet browser tabs.  In one tab, a news article, website, meme or other object is open.  In a second tab, search for verification of questionable claims.  This is a real-time exercise that allows students to find out if a story is true or not quickly and easily. 

Techniques and strategies for finding and evaluating information is crucial for succeeding in college and careers.  Any questions or want more tips?  Ask us! or click this button:

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