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Current Topics: An Undergraduate Research Guide : Misinformation and Media Bias/Evaluating News
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Articles - Scholarly and Popular
Try searching these terms in the resources linked below: media bias, journalism and objectivity, misinformation, disinformation, journalism AND ethics, journalism AND accuracy, fake news
- Academic SearchSearch here for scholarly and popular articles on many topics.
- Communication & Mass Media CompleteSearch here for articles on communication and media topics.
- Opposing Viewpoints in ContextOpposing Viewpoints provides topic overviews, viewpoint articles, statistics, primary documents, and full text magazine and newspaper articles related to controversial social issues.
- Newspaper Source PlusNewspaper Source Plus includes 1,520 full-text newspapers, providing more than 28 million full-text articles.
- Newspaper Research GuideThis guide links to sources for finding current and historical newspapers online and in print. This includes local, national, and international as well as mainstream, alternative, and ethnic newspapers.
Selected books about media literacies available through UW-Madison libraries. Possible subject headings include: journalism ethics and journalism--objectivity.
- The Praeger Handbook of Media Literacy by Art Silverblatt (Ed.) This groundbreaking two-volume set provides readers with the information they need to grasp new developments in the swiftly evolving field of media literacy.Call Number: ebookPublication Date: 2013
- Think Before You Like: Social Media's Effect on the Brain and the Tools You Need to Navigate Your Newsfeed by Guy P. Harrison In this book, Guy P. Harrison marshals scientific social scientific research to explain what makes misinformation so easy to spread and offers solutions to how to maintain a healthy skepticism.Call Number: HM742 .H378 2017ISBN: 1633883515Publication Date: 2017
About this Guide
This research guide provides information on media literacies, misinformation, and fact checking.
Below are some definitions to keep in mind when evaluating news and media sources.
- Satire: Sources that use humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to comment on current events, particularly in the context of contemporary politics.
- Bias: A tendency that comes from a particular point of view or outlook based on personal opinions and judgment.
- Propaganda: Information that may be biased, untrue, exaggerated, or framed in such a way to convince a target audience to accept a framework as true.
- Sponsored Content: Long-form advertisements that resemble news stories and are embedded in a news website as any other story would be.
- Fake News: Sources that intentionally fabricate information, circulate deceptive information and content, or grossly distort actual news reports. Fake news is information that has no factual basis or information that is fabricated by those who do not have the appropriate credentials to be writing news stories.
Bias refers to preferences or prejudices in favor of certain kinds of beliefs, ideas, or people. We all hold both explicit and implicit biases.
- Explicit bias describes beliefs about the world that we are consciously aware of and that inform our perspectives on a variety of issues. Explicit biases might include political preferences we know we hold or extreme and overt prejudices.
- Implicit bias is more subtle and describes the unconscious prejudices that influence our perceptions of different kinds of people and ideas. Even people who regard themselves as neutral and without prejudice display some forms of implicit bias. Once implicit bias is made conscious, it can become easier to unlearn.
Why is it important to understand bias?
- The biases we hold impact the way we view information. We are more ready to believe a news story, headline, or image if it confirms rather than challenges our biases.
- Our biases may also influence the way we seek and receive information. We often look for information in sources that reinforce our biases. We are also more likely to passively view news shared by people in our social circles who are more likely to share our biases.
- Bias is deeply ingrained into every culture. As such, there is no such thing as an "unbiased" reporter. Journalists, bloggers, researchers, and professors all approach their topics with bias, but they also have relevant expertise. Good journalism, like good scholarship, is done with curiosity and open-mindedness, rooted in facts about the world and honest about the judgments it makes.
Harvard University's Implicit Bias Test can help you learn if you have implicit biases around race, gender, sexuality, disability, indigeneity, age, size, and nationality. Remember that these tests are just one way to help you come to terms with your biases, but they are a good way to get started.
- Understanding Bias
(The American Press Institute) "Understanding Bias" explains that the notion of bias as purely negative is outdated and cannot serve modern journalism. Instead, they argue that journalists must exercise critical thinking rather than strive for pure objectivity.
- Speaking of Psychology: Understanding Your Racial Biases
(American Psychological Association) In this podcast conversation, Yale psychologist John Dovidio explains how unconscious bias can manifest as "averse racism," a subtle form of prejudice which influences how different groups of people relate to one another.
- How to Think about "Implicit Bias"
(Scientific American) This article defends implicit bias from critics who assert that bias can only be overt. It considers some of the social consequences of this kind of thinking.
Understanding Media Ownership
Media ownership can take many forms both within the United States and globally. Who owns and funds a media organization may or may not have an impact on that organization’s editorial decisions. A good news consumer keeps in mind different media ownership structures when curating their news diet. Here are a couple common ownership structures:
- Public Media describes media that is funded by taxpayers, but editorially independent of the government that funds it. This kind of media may have a legal obligation for objectivity, and may also be required to include a civic education component. Examples include NPR or the BBC.
- State-Owned Media describes media that is run by the government, often for the purpose of advancing that government’s agenda. This kind of media is often criticized as dispersing propaganda on behalf of the state that owns it. While tracing this kind of editorial control can be difficult, and while these organizations can produce solid reporting, they should be understood as having a particular point-of-view. Examples include Russia Today (RT) or Voice of America (VoA).
- Private Media describes media with a variety of ownership structures, but which are not funded by a government. A newspaper, channel, or website might be owned by a single individual or family (e.g. The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos), or owned by a parent company (e.g. CNN is owned by WarnerMedia, which is owned by AT&T). These organizations maintain editorial independence because they are funded by subscriptions and advertisements, though critics have wondered whether various benefactors have had a hand in newsroom decisions. These may or may not be for-profit entities.
- Alternative Media describes media which claims freedom from government or corporate influence. This type of media can include underground zines, radio, and online news program. Alternative media generally seeks to present information and stories from the perspective of a marginalized group, and is often, though not always, progressive. Examples include Democracy Now! And Adbusters.
Currently, traditional local news sources like local newspapers are vanishing at the same time as national and multinational media organizations are consolidating. Take a look at these graphics:
- Local news organizations find it increasingly difficult to compete with media organizations with vastly more resources. They also struggle to garner as much interaction on social media, a popular way consumers receive news.
- Many experts agree that a healthy democracy depends on the exchange of a diversity of views from a variety of independent sources. National news takes place against a more polarized backdrop and rewards more opinion-based journalism, This contributes to a sense that facts don’t matter or are impossible to know.
- Local news also specializes in on-the-ground reporting about local issues. When these newsrooms shut down, people are less aware of how their city is being run, and government officials and local industries receive less oversight. This also contributes to the public’s lack of trust in traditional authorities, making room for fake news.
Articles on Misinformation and Fake News
The articles and links below provide tips on how to identify fake news and emphasize the importance of confirming the accuracy of information before sharing it with others.
- From Headline to Photograph, a Fake News Masterpiece(The New York Times) The New York Times interviews a man responsible for creating a fake news website. This article details how individuals create fake news and how quickly the news can spread.
- From Startling Insight to Random Insult: A Guide to the Uses and Misuses of "Fake News"(Salon) How the term fake news has become a buzzword among pundits, politicians, and news media, and the difference between fake news and bad journalism.
- The Journey of a Fake News Story That Begins with a Single Tweet(The New York Times) The New York Times provides an example of how one private citizen's Twitter comment became a false story that quickly spread.
- We Tracked Down a Fake-News Creator in the Suburbs. Here's What We Learned(NPR) An interview with a man who created Disinfomedia, a company that owns a handful of fake news websites. This article reveals some of the motivations behind creating fake news stories.
- What Makes People Trust and Rely on News(American Press Institute) Research conducted by the Media Insight Project found that overall, people want journalism to be fair, balanced, accurate, and complete. However, it can be unclear how news organizations can achieve these desires (and what these factors even mean to an individual).
How to Evaluate News Articles
The librarians at UW-Madison are experts at helping you to learn and apply strategies for assessing the value of information you encounter. It is incumbent on you, however, to ultimately decide how to responsibly interpret and disseminate information. To help you get started, we have developed an "Evaluation Tip Sheet" that is useful for analyzing scholarly and popular articles.
The resources below, including our tip sheet, offer checklists and questions to ask to help verify the legitimacy of news sources.
- Evaluation Tip SheetThis guide prompts readers to consider a source's relevance, authority, purpose, and currency as critical components contributing to the informational value of an article.
- WNYC - Breaking News Consumer's HandbookA guide that examines current issues in the media and how this information is shared with the public.
- FactCheck.org - Don't Get Spun by Internet RumorsA website dedicated to fact checking popular rumors and claims.
- The Washington Post - The Fact Checkers Guide to Detecting Fake NewsA guide of step-by-step evaluation instructions when examining news articles.
- Professor Melissa Zimdars - False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” SourcesA Google Doc created by an Assistant Professor of Communications at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. Provides advice on how to evaluate news articles (with a list of websites to avoid or question).
- The American Press Institute - Six Questions That Will Tell You What Media to TrustSix essential questions to ask when examining news stories.
Other Helpful Resources
- Glossary: The Language of News LiteracyGlossary of terms related to news and media literacy.
- Pew Research CenterPew Research Center is "a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research" including polls related to public opinions regarding fake news.
- Beware of Filter Bubbles - Ted Talk"As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there's a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a "filter bubble" and don't get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview. Eli Pariser argues powerfully that this will ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy." (Description taken from ted.com)
Although many news articles may exhibit some level of bias depending on the author or source, it is important to remember that journalists should follow a code of ethics. Below are resources that discuss the ethics of journalism.
Fact Checking Sites
Below are helpful websites that fact check news articles to ensure you are receiving and sharing accurate information.
How to Read Poll Information - What to Believe?
How do we interpret election poll information, and how do we know it's accurate? As with all news sources, we should think critically about these polls to ensure inaccurate information does spread as fake news. Below are resources to help read election poll information, along with tips on how to interpret this information carefully and correctly. As you read polls, keep in mind that polls only give us an imperfect sense of what various populations believe in a moment in time. Polls are not meant to determine who should win an election or which policies would best meet certain political objectives.
- How To Read 2020 Polls Like A FiveThirtyEighter FiveThirtyEight is a website that specializes in understanding polling and statistics. This guide will help you understand how to read poll data, not tell you what to think about the candidates or their proposals.
- Polling Fundamentals and Concepts: An Overview for Journalists This resource provides students with a list of useful concepts for understanding polls created in the aftermath of the 2016 election.