Evaluating reliability of news sources an important skill

With fabricated and erroneous content often masquerading as legitimate news online and in social media, the ability to evaluate the reliability of the news sources from which they come is a critical skill for students in the digital age.

Numerous strategies and resources are available to help teach students how to evaluate reliability and other news literacy skills. SchoolJournalism.org and the Center for News Literacy offer a variety of lesson plans, and The News Literacy Project provides informational videos and a monthly Lie Detector Challenge, which gives students an opportunity to apply their fact-checking skills to a featured piece of information online.

The media landscape is now more diverse than ever. Consumers can get their news from countless platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, podcasts, legacy media and a variety of websites. News sources on each of these platforms vary in their reliability, and it is the consumer’s responsibility to evaluate them.

According to the Center for News Literacy, reliable news sources demonstrate verification, independence and accountability.

The process of verification involves gathering, assessing, confirming and weighing evidence in search of the truth. When consumers evaluate a news source’s system of verification, they should consider if and how it checks the accuracy of its content. A news aggregator might use a different process and a different level of scrutiny than a legacy medium that conducts original reporting, for example. An individual who uses Twitter to disseminate news might not check accuracy at all.

News sources should also demonstrate independence. Journalists and news organizations should not allow financial, personal, familial or intellectual ties to influence their reporting. They should be transparent about any potential conflicts of interest. Among the factors consumers should consider are where the funding for a news source comes from and whether it has any political ties.

The degree to which news sources are accountable for their work is another important component of reliability. The use of bylines and signoffs demonstrate that a news source is taking responsibility for the truthfulness of its content. A Facebook user who shares content of unknown origin or a contributor to an anonymous online discussion board, for example, have little accountability. Content produced by a journalist employed at a news organization whose reputation is at stake has more accountability.

Considering the immense volume of information that an individual comes in contact with on a daily basis, the ability to select reliable news sources is critical to being an informed consumer.