You probably rely on the internet for timely news and information. However, the quality and reliability of websites that represent themselves as news sources varies greatly, so it's important to know basic criteria for assessing their credibility. Here is a list of advice to make sure you're finding the highest-quality information and fulfilling a well-rounded media diet:
- Never rely on one news source alone: Even the most reliable news websites are fallible. Make a routine to check, or follow more than one. Assess each site individually and in comparison with others. Cross-check the reported facts.
- Weigh the website's overall reputation for credibility and trustworthiness: Any website can call its content "news," and there are many fake and low-quality sources with that label out there. One way to sort the good from the bad is to consider each one's reputation. Sites owned by or affiliated with long-established, well-regarded news organizations — for example, the BBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CBS News, and The Associated Press — are generally more trustworthy than sites you've never heard of.
- Examine the website's URL and contact info: Disreputable "news" websites sometimes spoof the look and style of legitimate news websites. They may also use domain names that look very much like, but aren't, the addresses of real news sites. For example, you can find the real NBC News at nbcnews.com, but a site called, hypothetically, "nbcnews4you.com" is highly likely to lead you astray.
- Look for a clear distinction between reporting and opinion: Reputable news websites may contain both news reporting and opinion commentary, but they always clearly distinguish between the two by labeling opinion pieces as such. Be skeptical of "news" articles that appear to be passing judgment on issues or engaged in advocacy as opposed to straightforwardly reporting the facts.
- Beware of sites with a bias or agenda: Bias can be anywhere. Sometimes it's overt, sometimes not. The potential for hidden bias is another good reason to get news from multiple sources and to cross-check information whenever possible. While bias in a news source can be subtle or even unconscious and hard to detect, a source with an agenda — that is, the conscious intent or mission to promote a partisan or one-sided version of "truth" — can often be spotted simply by browsing a site's content. Does the website appear to report on matters of interest to only one political side or interest group? Caveat emptor — reader beware.
Visit our Media Literacy archives for more hints and tips for navigating the world of online information.