Here are some tips for determining if a story is probably reliable. An organization does not need to tick off all these qualifiers in order to be authentic and accurate, but the more red flags suggest a heathy skepticism is in order.
CLUES FROM THE WRITING
1. ORIGINAL REPORTING. Is this source likely to know this information? Does the news organization have reporters attending news conferences in person, working in cities where the news is happening and talking to key sources directly? Or does the organization have to rely on second-hand information from other sites?
2. LONE-WOLF REPORTING. Compare the information with other sites you trust. Are these sites reporting the same information? It’s possible the site might have a scoop, but a lack of multiple independent accounts means it is more likely that the story is false. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of writer and producer bias within a company or the result of the particular focus of the outlet (which may include not offending certain sponsors or other companies owned by the same parent company). Typically, you should expect more than one source reporting on an important topic or event. Plus, it’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames.
3. AP STYLE. Most legitimate news organizations will use the AP Stylebook as a writing guide (no Oxford comma, full name on first reference and only last name thereafter, etc.). Some organizations have developed their own style guides (New York Times, Wall Street Journal,etc.) and most news organizations use an in-house style guide (to deal with writing issues that are unique to the publication’s area of reporting).
4. POOR GRAMMAR. When a writer makes obvious grammatical mistakes they also may not have taken the time to make sure the facts in the article are accurate.
5. ADJECTIVES & ADVERBS. Objective journalism avoids adjectives and adverbs. The more of them used in an article, the more you should question whether the goal of the writer is to inform you or to convince you of something.
6. BALANCE. Does the article quote, not only more than one side in a dispute, but experts as well? A he-said-she-said story without the opinions of experts in the field is weak reporting. And when there’s only a single source, be hesitant to accept the information outright.
7. OBJECTIVE. Like the scientist aiming to discover the truth, having some bias does not mean a journalist cannot arrive at the truth through a tested and effective approach (as does the scientific method, despite the bias of the researcher). The complaint that “no one can really be objective” misses the point that it’s not the journalists themselves but the articles that need to be objective. Someone with biases can still put together a “neutral” article.
8. OPINION. Is the article part of an opinion section? Does the video feature a commentator? Commentary has a long history of having a part inside the pages of newspapers, but many readers confuse an editorial article with news reporting. The same can happen online or on TV news. There’s no need for an opinion piece to be neutral in its presentation. Just don’t confuse it with a unbiased news piece.
9. DOXING.Doxing is making private information public in order to hurt a person or organization. If writer suggests anything like doxing, run the other way.
10. EMBEDDED LINKS. Quality journalism values clarity over style. Links in the article to original source material shows a commitment to transparency and allows readers can make up their own minds about how it was used.
11. SPONSORED CONTENT. Some news organizations will publish articles similar to what they normally publish—only in this case the material is sponsored by an advertiser. The intention could be to provide legitimate information about a subject while at the same time promoting the advertiser's product. Sometimes referred to as native advertising, reputable publishers will identify the article as “sponsored content” in a prominent location.
12. LOCAL REPORTING. If the story involved a particular locale, was local expertise included? Was the reporting conducted on the scene?
13. YOUR REACTION. Be sensitive to occasions when you become angry as you read an article. If you are outraged after reading something, the story may be written to manipulate your emotions.
Fake News Signals: Part 1 of 7
Fake News Signals: Part 3 of 7
Fake News Signals: Part 4 of 7
Fake New Signals: Part 5 of 7
Fake New Signals: Part 6 of 7
Fake New Signals: Part 7 of 7