Is the story true?

Love this NPR piece on questions to ask yourself when thinking about whether a story is true or not.  Lot’s of good stuff.  I’m definitely sharing it with my son who asked me the other day, “how do I know what to believe.”  I said, when in doubt, New York Times, but that’s not always good enough.  NPR:

Is the story so outrageous you can’t believe it? Maybe you shouldn’t. Respect the voice inside you that says, “What?”

Is the story so outrageous you do believe it? That’s also a warning sign. Many stories play on your existing beliefs. If the story perfectly confirms your worst suspicions, look for more information.

I so love those two.  It’s hard, but sometimes when you really want to believe something is when you need to question it the most.  More good stuff:

Does the headline match the article? Many compelling headlines don’t…

Are you asked to rely on one killer factoid? Not a good idea. If a hacked document “proves” an implausible conspiracy, look for the context that shows what the document really means. As for photos and video, use Ronald Reagan’s old slogan: trust but verify. If there’s any doubt about a “stunning” video, see if more traditional sources link to it. They love video clicks as much as anyone. If they refrain, there may be good reason…

Does the news source appear to employ editors? Many news organizations produce stories that are checked before publication. Others don’t. It’s a big deal. Hiring an editorial staff shows the publication’s respect for you, and matters more than “political bias.” The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, for example, have different owners, audiences, stories, perspectives and obsessions. Both have made mistakes and omissions; but both send reporters out into the world and back them up with an editorial process that catches and corrects many errors. This means both can be informative, regardless of your politics or theirs…

Did the writer engage with anyone who disagrees? Did they call a senator whose legislation bugs them? Did they try to grasp what the president-elect was doing, or merely repeat one of his more outrageous statements? If it’s a broadcast interview, was the guest presented with genuine opposing views and challenged to answer? Those who wrestle with opposing arguments do you a service and often improve their own arguments.

These simple questions should take you a long way toward judging the value of a news story.

Great stuff.  Safe to say, experienced news consumers like you and me are probably pretty much doing all of these implicitly, but really nice to have them written down like this.  Perfect for sharing with high-school and college students and those just learning how to consume the news.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

4 Responses to Is the story true?

  1. Mika says:

    Is “Too good to be true” a “Is the story so outrageous you do believe it?”‘s subcategory? 🙂

  2. Stefan says:

    Unfortunately, to apply the criteria, you have to desire to know whether something is true or not. Many people are not willing to question their sources.

    • itchy says:

      I agree with Stefan. No one who buys into conspiracies, who is inordinately susceptible to confirmation bias, who wants the easy “knockout punch” against the opposing viewpoint — is going to care about this. Sad.

      • Steve Greene says:

        True. But there really are some decent, reasonably open-minded people who just need to know this stuff. (Think about those people who share The Onion thinking it’s real).

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