Finding Quality News in a Time of Crisis
Journalists have a saying: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
News consumers would do well to follow that same advice as they consider which sources of information to rely on – especially during the global health crisis. They have literally hundreds of choices from national to local, each promising to deliver the news accurately, fairly and ahead of the competition. But which ones are truly credible?
Before the Internet changed everything, Americans could select from only three TV networks and a handful of large newspapers to receive national and international news. But in the Digital Age, their choices include everything from scores of cable channels to specialized newsletters to YouTube to social media platforms to podcasts. And in their communities, they have newspapers, TV stations, nonprofit journalism startups and hyper-local news listservs.
It’s no wonder they’re overwhelmed. A Pew Research Center survey of more than 12,000 U.S. adults late last year found that most (66 percent) “feel worn out by the amount of news there is these days.” And that was before saturation coverage of the pandemic.
So where should time-starved Americans turn for authoritative news in these uncertain times? Here are some tips:
- First, distinguish between news and opinion. For a growing number of “news” organizations, ideological slant has become a business model. They tend to provide news through a prism that reinforces the beliefs of their audience. This is especially true of prime time cable shows that promote partisan conflict, which adds to the nation’s political polarization. If you just want the unvarnished facts, don’t turn to biased bloviators as your source for objective news. Likewise, understand that the editorials and columns that appear on the opinion pages of newspapers (and their websites) are distinct from the news pages. The opinion pages try to tell you what to think. The news pages give you the facts so you can make up your own mind.
- Rely on the most trusted names in news. Organizations like The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, PBS, The Wall Street Journal and many others have immense and growing audiences that are loyal precisely because these outlets are seen as credible, fair, fearless and journalistically independent. All of these organizations have high journalistic standards (their extensive ethics policies typically are posted on their websites). They have massive newsrooms staffed by veterans with deep reporting expertise. It’s not uncommon for a major New York Times story to carry five bylines and to rely on interviews with dozens of sources. Yes, even great news organizations make errors. But generally speaking, they are quick to publicly own up to their mistakes and set the record straight.
- Turn to (and support) reputable local news outlets. As the coronavirus has spread, record numbers of people have turned to local news sources for quality information about their communities that they can’t get from big national outlets. Opt for well-established local newspapers or broadcast stations. They typically have the largest news staffs and they know the needs of their audiences. They provide the kind of reliable, fact-based information that is essential to you – everything from the status of local stay-at-home directives to where to get medical assistance. Even before the pandemic, surveys have consistently shown Americans have a higher trust level in local news providers. Consider supporting them financially. Their business models rely heavily on advertising, which has plummeted. Local newspapers, even large metro papers, were in financial peril even before the health crisis. Many are being forced to slash journalists at precisely the time they are most needed. You can help by subscribing to your local paper.
- Consume widely. Don’t rely on just one news source. Instead, make a habit of reading several respected news products each day. Each will be careful to stay away from opinion in their news reports. That said, they often reflect different news judgment in terms of the emphasis given to a story or the perspective from which it’s told. That diversity is good.
- Finally, understand that the role of a news reporter is to aggressively and relentlessly pursue truth. To the outsider, journalists often are seen as pushy and insistent. When you see a Washington reporter demanding answers of the president or political leaders, understand that they are doing their job even if it seems impolite. They’re seeking the truth for It’s the patriotic duty of a news reporter to pepper those in power with unpleasant questions. That’s precisely as the Founders envisioned the role of a free and independent press.