With global news being accessible round the clock with live updates, it can be easy to get lost in the flood of information, where it can be difficult to determine facts from embellishments and political narratives from true stories.
Fortunately, there are steps readers can take to ensure they glean the best information from their media sources. All it takes is just a little critical thinking.
If you read an article and you aren’t sure about the validity of its claims, start by asking yourself the very basic 5 Ws.
- Who wrote the article? Who is the intended audience?
- What is it about? What is the political alignment of the news corporation? How could that factor into the content of the article?
- When was it published? How close, temporally, is the date of publication to the event it describes?
- Where does the content take place? Where is the news corporation based? What country?
- Why would they write the article? Is it an informative piece, or an OP-ed?
This is always a good place to start for basic consideration of a subject because it has the potential to lead you down deeper avenues of thought that you might not have considered before.
Another important thing is to always question the sources. That’s when you ask…
How did the journalist support the article? Did they mention their sources at all?
And pose the five W’s to it. Who created those sources? What is their content? When were those sources created- has time affected their validity? Where did the sources come from? Why would the journalist use these specific sources instead of any others (if there are any)?
Embellished and sensationalized news stories will usually fall apart under this type of questioning. The goal is to question as much as possible and then analyze. When you have your questions in your head, that’s when you start to think about the potential answers for them and that can help you evaluate the perspective of the information that you are consuming.
It’s also important to remember the types of sources that articles will use. These can be split up into primary and secondary sources.
- An example of a primary source is someone who was physically present to witness the event as it unfolded.
- However, even primary sources cannot always be 100% trusted, especially if it’s a person recounting the event some time after it happened. Always consider the effect of time on memory and the type of narrative that the person may want to give. Photographs and videos that are not raw footage may be subject to the same scrutiny as these things can always be edited.
- An example of a secondary source is a news article, a book, or a study on the original source material.
Most reputable news journals will not publish something that is outright false, but in the hurry to update people as quickly as possible, they may give misleading information if they publish it before the entire story – and its entire perspective – is known.
Always remember to read everything with that basic level of questioning in mind, and you will be able to have a fairly decent grasp of the situation at hand.
This article was written by Kristina Weber, Content Manager of Centry. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in History from the University of Calgary.