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Subject guides

Newspapers: Evaluating news stories

An introduction to newspaper resources at the University of Huddersfield Library

Unreliable news content

You might have heard the phrase "fake news". This is defined by the Oxford Dictionary of the Internet as "news that is not true". 

This could describe a source that appears to be a credible news outlet, but is fabricating information or distorting actual news reports. 

 Why does "fake news" exist? 

There are many reasons why an outlet may include content that is "fake". 

  • Politically motivated; wanting to exploit confirmation bias to promote or degrade a certain political theory, party or stance. This could be because of being funded by political organizations, or because of personal motivations. 
  • Satire; some sources use humour, or ridicule to comment on events. Satire has historically been used within newspapers to comment on events and mock those in power.  Remember that humour is subjective, so you may not find something funny that is intended for a different audience to yourself. 
  • To promote a certain agenda; this may not necessarily be political, but often serves the interests of a particular lobby. For example, stories related to healthcare may serve to promote a certain views that benefit or inhibit healthcare providers/pharmaceutical companies/ business providing alternative healthcare solutions. 
  • State-sponsored; sometimes news outlets are controlled either financially or by law by state powers and governments. This leads to news outlets only reporting what is sanctioned by governments, which could either exaggerate certain stories, censor others, or be false.

Some signs that a news site might be fake. 

  • The website address is similar to that of a mainstream news website, or the website itself using similar colours, logos or general design. 
  • The website's "about" page may show evidence of bias. 
  • Over-use of stock photos. Although most news outlets use stock images from time to time, there is usually some independent reporting that includes photos taken especially for the purpose of that story. 
  • Images that are Photoshopped, or captioned to create a reaction. 
  • Stories do not appear anywhere else. 
  • Articles may be labeled "sponsored content", meaning a company, government, or lobbying group may have paid for it's inclusion. 

You should always use your own judgement and learn to be a critical consumer of news a media generally. 

What is "clickbait"?

Have you found yourself clicking on an article with a headline that made you angry, upset, or intrigued? This could be clickbait. The Oxford Dictionary of Social Media defines this as an "attention grabbing headline: a marketing technique designed to attract click-throughs and shares". Websites that make money from advertising may use clickbait articles in order to get more people to share them on social media. This can include mainstream media sources as well as "fake news" websites and social media profiles. 

Recognizing bias within journalism

Newspapers and other media outlets are often owned or supported by parties with particular biases or political or economic motivations. It is important to keep this in mind when exploring news media sources. These affiliations could lead to biased reporting, commentary that backs a certain viewpoint or stance, or the promotion of particular ideas or sentiments over others. 

Newspapers also have to sell, either print copies, or advertising space on websites through increasing views. This can lead to journalism that includes clickbait headlines, or inflammatory content. Newspapers will also target their reporting to appease the various biases of their readership. 

You can find out who owns media originations through looking them up on business databases such as Fame. 

Books exploring evaluating news sources

Ethical journalism

Here are some examples of codes of conduct from media organisations, and some common themes from these guidelines. 

Recognizing your own bias

Just because you do not agree with something does not make it "fake news". When evaluating news stories it is important to recognise the biases of the media, but also be aware of your own biases and the reasons you react to certain stories in certain ways. 

  • Implicit bias; these are the attitudes or beliefs you hold that you have developed over time, and that may come from your cultural background, or through what information you have previously been exposed to. Some of these are outside your control, but you can work to change these biases. Try reading newspapers or writers from different cultures or communities to your own, or learning about how other people experience the world. 
  • Confirmation bias; we tend to look for information that backs up already existing viewpoints, ideas, or beliefs. Only using sources that reflect our own politics, views, communities and cultures is known as confirmation bias. Evaluating the newspapers or media outlets you already consume is a good way of exploring what your implicit biases may stem from. 

Useful training resources