It’s hard to avoid media bias in the age of information. With so many viewpoints disguised as fact, how do we know if any so-called “fact” is legitimate?
Not to mention, news outlets are in such fierce competition to get their story out first that they tend to sacrifice accuracy for ratings.
Luckily, there are actual guidelines we can follow to ensure we’re viewing credible, unbiased sources. There are even ethical guidelines that real journalists are supposed to follow to ensure accurate, unbiased material.
I spent four years learning about these guidelines while working on my BA in Communication Arts and Journalism. As a result, I felt it necessary to share what I’ve learned with the world.
Here’s how to tell if you’re reading a biased or unreliable source.
How to Avoid Media Bias and Fake News
1. Pay Attention to the URL.
The URL is your source’s website address (see above). The end of a source’s URL will determine where the source was published. It will also tell you what kind of source you’re about to read. Here’s what the end of a source’s URL means, according to University of Georgia’s website.
If your source ends in .gov, it was published on a website owned and run by the federal government. Information from government-run websites is normally credible and unbiased. Government websites tend to inform the public with unbiased “census statistics, studies, congressional hearings, and Supreme Court rulings” on government websites. If you’re a little paranoid and believe the government publishes falsified studies and statistics, don’t hesitate to cross-check the information. 😉
If your source ends in .edu, it’s affiliated with an educational institution. This is usually a good sign in terms of credibility. Scholars tend to publish well-researched and peer-reviewed, verifiable information on scholarly websites. However, it’s never ok to assume the source is credible just because it says .edu at the end. Always double-check its sources and language to make sure all information is accurate and unbiased.
If your source ends in .com, you’ll need to verify the information in the article. Any person or company can create a commercial website using .com to sell their goods or point of view. Knowing this, always verify sources from articles ending in .com.
It used to be that .org websites contained information from non-profit, unbiased, credible organizations. These days, however, many nonprofits lean to one side of the political spectrum and publish biased information. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention. Verify the author, date, and all seemingly factual information stated. Also, look out for biased tone throughout the article or document.
URLs that end in .mil are run by the military or a military-affiliated person/group. Usually, facts and information you find on these sites are credible and unbiased. But it never hurts to confirm the information elsewhere.
If your site ends in .net, triple-verify the author, date, and sources. Anyone can open up a website with the .net URL, which is why it’s important to pay close attention to what you’re reading. Even if the source seems credible, cross-reference the information to make sure.
2. Look for the author’s name.
If there is no author’s name at the beginning or end of the article, something may be fishy. A lack of attribution does not always mean a lack of credibility. Yet, it is definitely a sign to continue the verification process.
3. Verify the date.
Illegitimate sources will repost articles from years earlier whenever they appear relevant. They do this to attract new viewers and followers. Some will also cite data from 3-20 years prior to prove a point out of context.
Legitimate sources do not cite research published more than two years prior to the current date unless there is no other information available. If they do cite outdated sources, they will explain the lack of research out there. Credible, unbiased sources are honest and transparent.
Ultimately, always verify the date your source was published on before assuming it is legitimate and relevant. The date will be located at the top or bottom of the document. If you can’t find it, it may not be a legitimate source.
4. Verify ALL information with sources, which should be cited in the article.
Wherever there is a fact referenced in an article, verify it. The process is quite simple. If the article is credible, its sources will be cited with links throughout it. Otherwise, there may be a list of sources at the end of the article with corresponding footnotes. At the very least, it will provide a source without a link.
When a fact has a footnote after it (which looks like this1), look for the corresponding source in the list at the end of the article. If you cannot find a source to back up the facts, you are not reading a legitimate source.
Similarly, if the source of a fact does not prove the fact, the article is not a credible source. In this case, paste the “fact” into your search engine or FactCheck.org. See if you can find a legitimate source to back it up BEFORE you share any information with others. This is called cross-referencing. Make sure to verify any source you use.
5. Check to see if your source follows a code of ethics.
If you’re not sure a source is reliable, see if it follows a code of ethics. This is often found under “About Me,” “Mission Statement,” or something similar. It may also be found at the bottom of the page under “Code of Ethics.”
For example, here’s a link to BBC’s code of journalistic ethics. If the source does not follow an ethics code, you should be skeptical.
6. Look out for biased language and tactics.
Biased media outlets use subtle, emotional language and other tactics to discuss the so-called “facts.” Their goal is to seduce viewers into agreeing with narrow viewpoints before considering the other side. Trust me, it works.
While news outlets didn’t always publish biased news, it’s a new world in the age of information. Most news outlets today have a political agenda they would rather push than work to uphold traditional journalistic standards.
This doesn’t necessarily make a source illegitimate. But it’s a sign to pay close attention to any assumptions presented. It is also a sign for you to cross-reference the facts with other, less biased sources. Here are some common biased tactics to look out for.
Generalizations and Assumptions
Watch out for subtle generalizations and assumptions sprinkled throughout your sources. A generalization is any statement that implies “all” or “never,” according to Walden University’s website. Here’s an example:
- Biased Generalization: “High school students don’t pay attention in math class.”
- Unbiased: “55 percent of high school students don’t pay attention in math class, according to a study by…”
Essentially, unbiased articles try to use numbers, concrete language, and attributions when referencing facts.
Lack of Evidence
Make sure every claim made in the article has a source to back it up. Here’s an example.
- “A little over 70 percent of people have owned a dog at some point in their life.”
- “A little over 70 percent of people have owned a dog at some point in their life, according to….”
- Make sure there is a link to the source to verify its credibility (unless it is a print source).
Overall, if an article makes claims without solid evidence, it is not a source of factual information. As such, do not share that information with others.
Watch out for opinions disguised as fact. Any claim without factual evidence to back it up is an opinion, not a fact. Oftentimes, writers make assumptions and insert opinions throughout their articles using emotional language. This does not necessarily make the article illegitimate. However, it’s important to determine which information is fact, which is opinion, and which is straight fiction.
Bias by Omission
This is a tricky one. Biased media outlets like to leave out information that can prove opposing viewpoints. This tactic misleads the viewer into thinking one way about the issues. If you’re watching or reading the news and get a feeling there is more to the story, do your own research. Most media outlets have an agenda; so, you should make a habit of researching issues yourself anyway.
Media Bias and Credibility
Now that you know how to evaluate sources for credibility, I want to help you out even more. Below, I have listed which news sources are generally factual and unbiased and which are not.
If you don’t trust me, check out MediaBiasFactCheck.com. This website reviews media outlets for bias and credibility. It even allows audiences to rate media outlets themselves.
Biased and/or Generally Illegitimate News Outlets
Click on the link to read more about each specific news source from MediaBiasFactCheck.com. You can use the site to search for and determine the credibility of any news network you want. Additionally, here is a list of fake news sources to avoid completely, according to Fake News Watch.
- FOX– FOX blatantly pushes conservative viewpoints, even if they don’t depict the whole picture. They omit stories that prove liberal viewpoints and use extremely biased language. FOX is infamous for being the “least accurate cable news source.”
- CNN– CNN blatantly pushes liberal viewpoints even if they don’t depict the whole picture. Like Fox, they tend to omit information if it does not coincide with their viewpoints. They also use extremely biased language and have failed fact-checks in the past.
- MSNBC– MSNBC is another biased, liberal media outlet. It uses biased language and omission to push their views. They have also published false claims in the past.
- Breitbart News– Breitbart is an extremely biased conservative media outlet. Some also believe it is racist. Do not trust or listen to news from this outlet. It is not credible or unbiased.
- Buzzfeed– Buzzfeed uses lists and sensationalism to create mostly viral feature stories and biased content. Their credibility has mixed reviews and they lean a little to the left.
- The Washington Post– The Washington Post is also known for sensationalism and a left-leaning media bias. In the past, they have hurt their credibility by publishing stories too fast without accurate information. However, they do report factual, well-sourced information most of the time.
- American Spectator– The American Spectator is an extremely right-leaning news outlet. While it has a heavy bias, it does still report information using credible sources.
- Vox Media– Vox Media has a very left-leaning bias but does use credible sources to back up information. Watch out for emotional language.
- The Daily Beast– The Daily Beast is very left-leaning. They often publish sensationalized headlines and biased assumptions. They do, however, usually use credible sources.
Slightly Biased Yet Legitimate News Sources
The following news outlets do contain some sort of media bias. Yet, they are all credible outlets that consistently verify claims using credible sources.
- NPR– NPR has a left-center bias when reporting. This means they tend to use emotional or biased language to influence the reader. However, they always use credible sources when reporting.
BBC– BBC is the British Public Service Broadcaster. They have very slight left leaning viewpoints but are always credible and reliable. Just make sure to watch out for biased language when watching or reading their news.
- PBS– While they do have a left-center leaning bias, PBS has been reporting the facts with high-quality sources for decades. Just pay attention to the tone and language when you’re tuning in to avoid bias.
- The New York Times– The New York Times is known for verified, factual reporting. However, they do have for a left-center lean when reporting the facts. Pay attention to their language and make sure they do not omit relevant facts when reading.
Newsday– Newsday has a left-center editorial bias but uses credible sources for reporting.
The New Yorker– The New Yorker has a left-leaning political slant but is known for credible facts.
- The Atlantic– Although it has a slight liberal bias, The Atlantic reports factual information using credible sources
- The Wall Street Journal– The Wall Street Journal provides exceptional reporting with credible sources. It does, however, have a right-center bias. Just keep an eye out.
- Forbes– Most of the content published by Forbes is credible with verifiable sources. Keep in mind that they do have a right-center leaning bias within their articles, however. Also, look out for anti-climate change propaganda with unverifiable sources and biased language. Click the link to read more. Always verify sources within articles.
Unbiased and Completely Legitimate News Outlets
Here are some examples of unbiased news outlets for you to follow. Check out the full list of least-biased and most credible outlets at MediaBiasFactCheck.com.
- Reuters– Reuters’ mission statement clearly states that they are committed to reporting the facts without bias. Click the link for more information.
- Pew Research– This is a nonpartisan research center with little bias.
C-Span– C-Span is one of the most neutral media outlets out there. They provide credible government news with little to no bias.
Snopes– While Snopes gets more complaints about liberal bias than conservative, they have proven to be reliable and unbiased time and time again.
USA Today– USA Today is one of the least biased news sources out there with the 3rd largest distribution rate, according to MediaBiasFactCheck.com.
The Economist– The Economist is another one of the least biased news sources out there. When they do publish opinion pieces, they make sure to label them as not to confuse their audience.
The Associated Press– Many media outlets get their information from The Associated Press because they report unbiased, breaking news. They are a known credible source.
- Foreign Affairs– Foreign Affairs is known for verifiable, factual reporting on U.S. foreign policy and international relations. There has been little to no bias detected in their reporting.
Resources to Keep Your Facts Straight
Now that you know how to identify verifiable, unbiased sources and language, don’t stop there. Here are some tools to avoid bias and unverifiable facts while reading or watching the news daily. Check MediaBiasFactCheck for more information on each resource.
Do you have questions or insight on the information, resources, or media outlets mentioned in this article?Leave me a reply in the comments so we can chat. 🙂
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