April 22, 2024


Unlimited Technology

Where are these people getting their information

“Legitimate” news organizations.

Fake news.

Conspiracy theories.

Facebook posts.


Information from all of these places comes to us every day. Often a story we hear or read in the morning will be contradicted by something we hear or read in the afternoon.



How are we to know what to believe?

I suggest one byword: Sources.

What’s the basis for the information you’re reading? Where did it come from? What kind of reputation does the publication you’re reading or broadcast you’re watching have for printing the truth? Is the talking head on your TV screen or smartphone an honest person?

Beyond that, where are these people getting their information?

And that’s where the word “sources” comes in.

It’s one of the first things they teach in journalism school: What are legitimate sources for the information you’re printing or broadcasting? (Or, in these days, posting online.)

Solid sources include reporting of live events like news conferences, public meetings, speeches and so on. This includes a reporter’s story from the scene of a sporting event, a natural disaster (in the case of the Chicago Bears, those are the same thing) or some other “breaking news” event.

Other impeccable sources are public records like police reports, minutes of governmental meetings, court records and so on.

Reporters also interview newsmakers for stories. While these people can (and sometimes do) lie, at least the reader or viewer knows who’s talking and can judge the accuracy of their statements.

There’s a gray area here: Anonymous sources. Even the Associated Press uses them; many times down through the years I read AP stories based on information from someone “who spoke on condition of anonymity” or wasn’t authorized to release the information.

It seems to me that stories based on anonymous sources might be accurate, but they might not be; the anonymous source might have an ulterior motive for speaking to the reporter.

Dubious sources include Facebook and Twitter posts. News organizations like the New York Times, CBS News and the Star Courier do use these social-media giants to communicate with their audiences, and you can trust their posts at the same level at which you trust their print or broadcast product.

But if the poster is some person or organization you’ve never heard of, don’t just automatically believe what you read. (You might also choose not to believe something a friend or relative told you, especially if they saw it online.)

If you really care about the truth of what you’re seeing online, you can consult fact-checking websites such as Politifact, Truth or Fiction.org or Snopes. These sites investigate questionable statements by politicians, Facebook posts and the like. As with a professional journalist, they cite the sources for their ruling of “true” or “false” for a story.

And that’s one way you can identify a phony online post, printed story or broadcast segment: It won’t identify the source of its information.

Spreading of false information through a communications tool like Facebook or Twitter is never good, but sometimes it’s dangerous, such as when someone insists that an anti-parasite drug, ivermectin, is an effective cure for COVID-19.

So look for the sources of any news item you see. If the sources are questionable, or aren’t even listed, then be very skeptical.

And by all means, don’t repeat the news at your Christmas party.

This article originally appeared on Star Courier: Mike Berry column: Where are these people getting their information

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