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Check Your Sources: Here’s How To Become More Media Literate


A recent study from Stanford University found most teenagers couldn’t tell the difference between fake and credible news. That problem isn't limited to teens, though. Leading up to and after the election of Donald Trump, there’s been growing criticism over fake and hyper-partisan news sites. Overwhelmed social media users have even begun to cut back on their Facebook habits.

Though a majority of American adults get their news from Facebook, the website’s algorithm is built to show you more of what you like – which may not be an accurate picture.

“Look at who’s creating the media that you’re watching, who’s the intended audience, what’s the purpose of this message, and what’s behind it,” said Carla Carter, who teaches media arts at the University of North Texas.

Most of her students are learning how to make films, but before they do that, Carter teaches them how to analyze media.

She shared some of what she teaches her students:

  • Beware of headlines. “Look for words that are in exclamation points, all-caps, or something that says ‘this is not a hoax,’” said Carter. “That’s a dead giveaway this is probably fake news.”
  • Check your reaction. “If the story immediately tugs at them to have an extremely adverse reaction towards one way or another, someone’s trying to pull on your strings and make you feel a certain way,” she said.  
  • Check multiple sources for the same story. “Compare the stories and see the different slants, so you can get a more holistic and accurate picture of what’s going on.”   
  • Get out of your bubble. “Mix up and have a variety of sources that you’re looking at throughout the day, so you’re not just getting posts from people who are just like you, who think the same thing as you.”

KERA reporters and producers deal with this on a daily basis. They shared some of their tips and tricks for sorting through the noise.
Get out of your media ‘echo chamber.’

“I know this is extreme, but I recently deleted the Facebook app from my phone and moved my New York Times and Dallas Morning News app to the same location where my social media is located. This, so far, has changed the types of news I read regularly. I also went into the 'categories' section on Facebook and to diversify and specify what Facebook knows about me. My hope is to see what other people are seeing. I also engage in conversation with people who don’t share my views on social media. I do not argue, but often ask them to explain their stance. If they can, I look into it with more depth.” – Hady Mawajdeh, arts reporter

Question information.

“If something sounds too crazy to be true, it probably is. At a minimum, try to find a second source that's reporting the same thing independently. Always remember: It's better to be right than first. Always question information, especially if the story doesn't appear in other publications you know and trust.” – Rick Holter, Vice President of News

“If the source is not a publication you are familiar with, check other headlines or articles it contains. These can be a clue as to whether the publication has any identifiable social or political slant. Such a perspective doesn't automatically mean the story isn't true, but you should be aware if the writer is trying to push you toward a particular viewpoint.  Also, if the piece includes hyperlinks to corroborating information, don't just trust these.  Click through and check out whether they come from trustworthy sources. If the story is based on research or government statistics, go to the original source and read it for yourself.” – Krys Boyd, host of Think

TV news can be misleading.

“Don’t mistake TV’s emphasis on an event for reality. Sometimes it’s warranted, and other times, they’re just devoting a lot of time to a certain speech or story because the other networks are. Also, just because a person featured on a network is being called an ‘expert,’ doesn’t mean they are, or that they are non-partisan. Do some research on that panelist.”Courtney Collins, reporter

“I don’t have cable at home, so my only dose of TV news is at work, and it’s usually on mute. I’m always surprised though at how often the words ‘Breaking News’ flash across the screen for something that’s not necessarily breaking.” – Krystina Martinez, ‘Morning Edition’ producer

Punditry is not reporting.

“Know the difference between original, sourced reporting and analysis. Pundits' ‘take’ on news can be enlightening and important, but you want to start with the real, unbiased facts before you dive into any kind of opinion piece built around the information.”  – Krys Boyd

Cant get enough? WNYC's On The Media podcast has several versions of their Breaking News Consumer's Handbook, which covers everything from breaking news to infectious diseases. 

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.