How to spot reliable news in the age of social media

Since President Donald Trump won the election, a paralyzed state first attacked hearts of many people. Misgivings have now turned into suspicion, which has now transferred to fear that now plagues the atmosphere. Some may even say hysteria has formed.

Most of these extreme feelings tend to be biased from the news outlets that may favor one side over the other, and even more so, what the general opinion is in your area.

Images flood our vision all the time with modern social media. Because of the power of the image, photos also resonate with our hearts. This fact leads images we see on a daily basis to tear at our hearts with how connected we feel to the recent ongoing events. While this is a good feeling (because it means you care), the passion can sometimes drive you to the brink of insanity. You may become so in tune with one side that you miss the full picture.

Many changes have taken place or will take place within a matter of months. Still, it is important to maintain a level head while you weigh the facts in your research and recognize that sometimes the job of ‘reporter’ is not as easy as it may appear.

While it is important to research information from various medium formats such as newspapers, on radio or television, you should be selective about your choices for sources, too.

Mass Media professor Rachael Hanel agrees and offers a couple pointers.

“I suggest doing research within credible sources. This includes trusted media outlets and the incredible research databases available through the MNSU library,” Hanel wrote in an email Wednesday. “Credible sources are less likely to take a sensationalized tone and present a more neutral, balanced stance on issues.”

Instead of what is being said or focused on, one should also exercise an often overlooked ability to read the fine print and see what is actually being done rather than what is being assumed or implied.

For instance, last month when Trump gave the executive order on the refugee ban, it was to prevent radicals from entering the country. The ban did not include a permanent ban on all Muslims as many were suggesting, but rather a temporary ban from seven countries. He also did not make it a permanent order and the length of time was a matter of a few months while he improves security.

“The bottom line is that Trump is improving security screening and intends to admit refugees at close to the average rate of the 15 years before Obama’s dramatic expansion in 2016,” writer David French said in a National Review article. “Obama’s expansion was a departure from recent norms, not Trump’s contraction.”

So despite the fact that you may have already formed your opinion, you should look at the counter side of the issue and dive deeper there to discover a balance between the two views. While it is an important exercise that any reporter should maintain, it also goes for a critical thinker, too.

“It is important to make sure you are looking up information on your own and that you are reading everything through,” Hanel said. “If you want to share something, you should make sure you are reading everything through thoroughly before you link it or share it. I believe that’s a good thing to try to combat how that news can snowball when it’s not factually accurate.”

If you consistently watch the news and you perceive that it focuses on just one negative aspect, Hanel advises to look for cases where that particular incident does not happen.

On the other side of the fence as a reporter, Hanel acknowledged that sometimes the newspapers could run short on resources or staff, and then you must cover the local events that are happening and that are unusual.

When Hanel worked for The Free Press, the only political issues she covered occurred at city council meetings. Yet Hanel said sometimes the city and county governments would address issues that were controversial.

“As reporters, we made sure we had all the facts and talked to all of the parties involved in order to present a balanced account,” she added in her email.

When asked if a working journalist could overcome their personal bias, Hanel provided a straightforward but insightful answer.

“Journalists will always have a bias due to their personal beliefs, the ways in which they were raised, the places in which they were raised, etc.,” Hanel said. “Only robots could be devoid of feelings, experiences and emotions. So journalists have to recognize that they have biases and strive for as much balance and neutrality as possible. If at any point they felt that their personal beliefs or opinions were influencing their coverage of an issue, they need to stop writing about that issue and hand it over to someone else. If their personal beliefs became a regular interference with their work, then they should find another job.”

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