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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR: Vetting national and regional news

by R. HANS MILLER
Managing Editor | May 3, 2024 4:18 PM

MOSES LAKE — Today’s media landscape often looks like a big bowl of spaghetti tossed against a wall already splattered with curry, leftover taco meat and gummy worms. It ain’t pretty, and it’s not always easy to decide, especially for national and global news, where to get information. 

On the national level, megacorporations run outlets that skew largely right or left. There are news outlets that lean so far in either direction that what they publish is more propaganda than news. There’s just enough factual information in it to give the inserted opinions of the writers an appearance of credibility. 

Then there’s digging through social media hoopla and trying to figure out what programs on TV are commentary and which are news. 

It’s a frustrating hot mess, but in the end, it’s up to each reader to vet news outlets for themselves.

How can you tell if an outlet is credible? 

First – Does the outlet cite its sources? Generally, each fact in an article should have something saying where it came from. That may be a person, an academic report, a data set, court records or something similar that provided the information. If the fact doesn’t have a source – question it. You should be able to verify the information online or by phone. Unidentified sources are generally only used if minors or sexual assault are involved or if someone would be put in danger.

Second – There are a variety of organizations out there that review the content larger news outlets publish or broadcast and analyze it. While the First Amendment may protect us in our responsibility to be the proverbial “watchdog on government,” there are folks out there keeping an eye on us as well. Something any reputable journalist appreciates. 

These organizations include Ad Fontes Media (adfontesmedia.com) which produces the Media Bias Chart, an online tool that analyzes media outlets and provides an easily navigated tool to see where an outlet stands regarding left-right lean and overall dependability. There are also organizations like NewsGuard that analyze outlets and give them a simple 0-100 score, similar to a grade high school math test. Reputable media monitoring organizations will also explain their methods in detail. 

Third – How does the outlet correct its mistakes? A reputable outlet will immediately correct its online content and include a note that a correction was made. Subsequently, any print outlet will also place a correction in the publication’s next edition, in a standardized location. The Columbia Basin Herald anchors our corrections on page A2, directly above the lottery results.

Fourth – If something seems too good to be true … well, you know. So, find a fact-checking site to work with. A variety of them are available for anyone to use as well. Duke University has the Duke Reporter’s Lab and analyzes news coverage for falsehoods. Snopes.com identifies misleading or untrue information. FactCheck.org, Metabunk and Politifact also find and debunk or clarify information in the national media. The Associated Press has a weekly column entitled “Not Real News” covering falsehoods that have gotten national attention.

Fifth – Consider your biases when reading the news and seek different opinions. If you agree with the news you’re reading all the time and it echoes your opinions, consider the idea that you may have put yourself into an unintended echo chamber of political opinion. 

For example, no person is fully good or bad, including politicians. You may not like that politician, but they’re bound to do something good at some point. You may love a politician, but they’re bound to disappoint you at times. If you never read about those good things or disappointments through your favorite outlet, consider a new outlet.

Sixth – Go abroad. When in doubt, go to an outlet that doesn’t have a vested interest in the outcome of what they’re reporting on. International outlets often cover the U.S. from a more neutral point of view. Take advantage of that. 

One last point before I get off this soap box – let the news outlet tell you what they’re about. A reputable news outlet’s website will have a link on its main page entitled “About us” or something similar. Those links are often at the bottom of the page. Look at it and let them tell you what their values are. 

Finally, this may be odd coming from a newsman, but don’t forget to take a break from the news. Focus on your family and community. Clear out the cobwebs of political arguments, the echoing of keyboard warrior battles and remember to live your life. The news will be there when you’ve had a chance to breathe and gain perspective. Look for brights as well: stories like our coverage of Springfest, community court graduations and the county fair.