How to Choose a Reliable News Source
Finding a reliable news source can be tricky, especially when you consider how few companies own mainstream news sources. Short of going to out of country sources, like the BBC or Al Jazeera, we’re left in the lurch for good, local reporting. The key is learning what to watch for and getting your information from as many sources as possible. Watch for these giveaways when researching news sources.
Language in the News
Regardless of which channel or newspaper is your favorite, their bottom lines are heavily dependant on what they put out and how they do it. Unfortunately, this inserts bias into places there shouldn’t be any.
To spot sway towards a particular viewpoint, look at what kind of wording the news casters use and the graphics chosen to portray the story. Let’s look at the difference between how CBS and ABC report the immediate aftermath of the Trayvon Martin case.
I did a search of “Trayvon Martin news”, and picked the first article from each of these news outlets that showed up.
First, let’s look at an article on CBS’s web page: George Zimmerman verdict: Trayvon Martin confronted neighborhood watch volunteer, defense attorney says. The title itself demonstrates that the article is written from a position skewed towards the viewpoint of Zimmerman acting out of self defense. The fact that they used “neighborhood watch volunteer” and stated that Martin confronted him automatically shines a negative light on Trayvon, while turning Zimmerman into someone every kid should look up to. As you read on, you’ll see the writer made the prosecution out to be overzealous and outright liars. Zimmerman was made out to be a combination of victim acting in self defense and hero on a quest to make his neighborhood a safer place.
Fox News Voicing Opinions and Framing Them As "Fact" Via Use of "Studies"
If you based your opinion of the case solely on this article and others like it, the case would seem more straightforward than it really is.
Now, let’s look at the article from ABC’s page: Trayvon Martin’s Parents ‘Devastated’ by Not Guilty Verdict. Again, just by the title, you can tell this article is steered towards the viewpoint of Trayvon Martin’s family. The article goes on to talk about what may have been going on in Trayvon’s mind over the course of events, the fact he was an unarmed teenager and the positive aspects of his personality. When Zimmerman was mentioned, an extremely negative light was shown on him.
If you relied solely on this article and others like it, the case would seem like an abhorrent failing of the justice system, and an innocent boy was murdered by a vengeful adult.
However, if you read up on both sides of the case, you’ll probably get closer to the truth of what happened. These two articles demonstrate the power of word selection and content selection. Neither tells the whole story. In fact when you put the two together, you still won’t get the full story, and this is the case in the majority of big news stories.
The writers and editors carefully choose which language to use and which angle to tackle whatever events are at hand in order to influence how their readership perceives the goings on.
Example of a VNR
VNR – Video News Release
Also known as “Fake News”, VNRs are stories which a company, political figure, the government or any number of other parties pay a news station to play it as if it were a story that was independently researched and witnessed. These are often as medical breakthroughs, campaigns against political figures or promoting a government program, amongst other things.
They do this in order to make whoever originally paid for the clip to look more credible. They play on the fact we’re less inclined to trust a commercial than we are a story investigated by a third party. However, these inserted stories are more dangerous than commercials because they’re not required to disclose side effects of medications or be honest about all of the facts behind a story.
You might be able to spot these stories by flipping between news channels and listening for similar stories, or looking them up on the internet later. If a story highlights a certain brand, person, product or program, though, there’s a good chance that it’s not news. Instead, it’s a VNR.
The majority of people don’t know about this campaign of misinformation and propaganda. It’s natural that we trust our local news channels have to tell us, isn’t it?
Who owns the news?
News Channels It Owns
TBS, TNT, Time Inc
ABC TV Network, ESPN
Dow Jones & Company Inc, Fox News stations, The New York Post, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, News Limited News, Phoenix InfoNews Channel, News Interactive, News Outdoor
CBS News, CBS Radio Inc (this one controls at least 130 channels)
CNBC, NBC News, MSNBC, USA Network
Maintaining the Status Quo
We also need to remember that whichever company owns the news channel needs to make money. They can’t do that if they offend those in power or upset their viewer base. So, they craft stories which stick with popular viewpoints of their target audience or of the people who own them.
This is why there’s so much more coverage of celebrities and sports figures in American media than actual international stories. This happens when they cover controversial things like UFOs or alternative medicine, for example. When newscasters interview witnesses, the people who sighted the UFO are often framed in the context of being unreliable. Between that and the generally condescending attitude of the anchors lead their viewers to dismiss the story as unimportant or to make fun of what happened in it.
This is also where opinion thinly veiled as supposed fact comes in. Regardless of which polarity a news station leans towards, many stories rely more heavily on opinion rather than fact.
Where Can I Find The News?
It’s a bad idea to collect your news from any one source. The internet has all sorts of web pages claiming to be news sources, but many of them are just as bad, if not worse, than the examples I’ve given here.
The American news industry has reached the point where you can’t just sit down and trust what the anchors and reporters have to tell you. If you’d like to be fully informed, it takes research and gathering information from multiple sources instead of just one or two.
Sadly, the era of balanced reporting is long past, save for a very few grassroots sources. We, as consumers, must be vigilant in listening with care and exercising critical thinking as we observe. Everything on the television, radio, internet and newspaper pages must be taken with a grain of salt.
Unless you have hours of free time on your hands, no one person can be fully informed of every single thing that goes on in the world. If you find a story that interests you or impacts you, do as much research about it as possible. If it’s an international story or one which takes place out of state, see if you can find sources from the area in which it happened. If it’s local, research what other local sources say about it.
Nine times out of ten, what you read between the lines is what really happened.
An excellent documentary which demonstrates part of what we didn't hear about on the news about Katrina.
The latest book in an excellent series detailing censorship and bias in the news.
© 2013 Emilie S Peck