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VOGEL LIBRARY

Newspapers Guide: Bias, Perspective
and Evaluating the News

A guide to finding Newspapers in Vogel Library and online.

News: What is the purpose?

The intent of a news article is theoretically to inform you of a newsworthy item.

However, no source is neutral and thus, every news source must be examined for agenda--the desire of the publication to persuade the reader towards a certain mindset, however mildly or seemingly harmless.

Word choice will be the primary indicator of agenda; inclusion/omission of facts and fact placement are also important (see box).

Some agenda is obvious.

Excerpted from https://thefederalist.com/2019/04/26/democrat-objections-citizenship-question-ploy-help-illegal-aliens-vote/

Word Choice Giveaways:

  • Illegal Aliens instead of undocumented immigrants
  • Ploy instead of plan (ploy sounds nefarious)
  • Hispanics instead of Latinos or LatinX
  • Many mentions of "minorities" without evidence of actual studies or differentiating between the many minority groups

Some agenda is not.

See more analysis at https://bikeportland.org/2013/10/07/language-matters-despising-avid-cyclist-and-a-news-story-anatomy-95128 for an interesting take on how a bias can be built subtly--and sometimes even invisibly to the author themselves.

It would be nice if a chart could do the work of ascertaining agenda for us, but charts like these create false equivalencies of extremities on "both sides," incorrectly equate publication agenda with straight political agenda, and manufacture the illusion that a source can be neutral (it cannot).

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Newspaper Reporting on Scientific Studies

Most of the time when we hear about the results of a new medical or scientific study, we learn about it from news sources reporting the results.

However, news sources will also often reword the results to make the results more sensational and often misleading (writing the percentage of risk rather than non-risk, for example, or not fully discussing the context).

Make it a habit to find the title of the original study and then track it down to its original source.

Bacon Causes Cancer: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jvchamary/2015/10/27/bacon-cancer/;

No Proof: https://metro.co.uk/2019/10/01/no-proof-steak-sausages-bacon-cause-cancer-experts-say-10836881/

A Non-Original Source Has These Characteristics:

  • Statistics/information are cited - the original source is listed or linked
  • Statistics/information are NOT cited, but it is clear that the information is not original to the source (i.e., if it's not the original study that found the results, then the information is not original). "Studies show..." is a common phrase used.

A Non-Original Source is Likely One of the Following:

  • News source article (newspaper, magazine, or their online equivalents)
  • Website article
  • Almost anything could cite something not original to the source--even one of the "original sources" listed to the left!

 

The original sources may be found in several ways:

  • If the citation is linked, it's as easy as that--as long as the link doesn't ALSO take you to another non-original source. This is actually fairly common, so be vigilant.
  • If the citation is not linked, you can Google the identifying words (the name of the source, the words pertaining to the statistics or information). You may need to do some digging through results to find it.
  • If the citation turns out to be an article in a publication that isn't free online, check if it is available through the library.
    • Get the full citation.
      • It it's a journal, use the "Journals A-Z" to search the title of the journal and see if we have that year (see video below this box).
      • If it's a book, use the OneSearch and limit to "Books" to see if we have it.
      • If you checked and the library doesn't provide access, you can order it through ILL. See the "More Resources" tab to learn how.
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What are AP and Reuters and why do they look like the authors?

The more news you read, the more you will notice the words AP or Reuters (or even AFP) at the beginning of the article.

These are the two major news wires/news agencies in the world. They have built the infrastructure to have access to news around the world, which they do not themselves publish--instead, they charge outlets to use this news to be able to write about stories they never could otherwise.

Think about what that means if most news outlets--big and small--are taking their news from the same two or three places.

Inclusion/Omission of Facts and Fact Placement

Knowing how a news article is constructed can inform you as you note:

  • where certain information is placed--the title and first paragraphs will get the most eyeball time.
  • what information is included and omitted. The middle and closing paragraphs will get less.

These are both aspects of bias and perspective you learn to examine in IS 201.

Slide credit: Haviland, M. Basic news writing. U.S. Air Force. https://www.slideshare.net/MarkHaviland/news-final1

Media Conglomerates and Their Effects

Watch this Last Week Tonight segment on Sinclair Broadcast Group--just one example of how media conglomerates can affect how millions of people receive news.

Print media can have similar issues. Note all Rupert Murdoch-owned publications.