Can You Trust the News?

Student Guide

NEWS / INTERNET

Can you tell the difference between good and bad journalism?

This short activity will show you how. You will use a handy review form developed by NewsTrust, our nonprofit site promoting good journalism. This review form will help you evaluate the quality of news stories and opinions – and learn to recognize credible information.

To get started, sign up on this special student page: http://newstrust.net/students
(If you already signed up before, please login.)

Then come back here and follow the step-by-step instructions in this student guide.

You will first read the story linked below, then rate it using the NewsTrust review form.
Quick tips at the end of this page can help you review this story.

If you need more help, email us at .

Good luck!

1. READ THIS STORY

Read this short news story: (click link below)

Racial tension simmers on Martha's Vineyard as Barack Obama arrives
Daily Telegraph – Aug. 20, 2009

After reading the story, rate it with our review form. (see below)

2. RATE THIS STORY

Please rate the story with the NewsTrust review form.

Click the yellow “Review” button at the top of the story page to open up the review form.
(Make sure that the dropdown menu at the top right corner of that review form is set to ‘Quick Review.’)

Answer these rating questions in the Quick Review form:

  • Is this story factual?
    Is it based on facts or opinions
    ?
  • Is it fair?
    Is it impartial or biased?
  • Is it well-sourced?
    Is it confirmed by multiple sources
    ?
  • Do you trust this publication?
    Is this news provider credible?
  • Do you recommend this story?
    Is this good journalism?

For help on how to rate a story, check the quick review tips below.

When you’re done reviewing the story, tell us why you rated it that way.

  • Notes:
    Is this good journalism? Why?

Write your observations about the quality of this story in the notes section of the review form, using 1-3 complete sentences.

3. MORE ACTVITIES

When you’re done, see how other people reviewed this story on NewsTrust.

To practice your review skills, try rating more stories picked by our editors.

You can also try reviewing an opinion piece on our other student guide for opinions.

4. REVIEW TIPS

To rate a story, you will be using the NewsTrust review form – it is like a score pad, with short questions about the story you are reviewing. Answering these questions will help you determine the quality of that story.

Here are some tips on how to answer questions in the NewsTrust review form for news stories.

• Is this story factual?
Is it based on verifiable evidence or opinions? Does this story provide factual information to support what it says? Or does this sound like someone’s personal views? Presenting reliable facts is the most important and the most basic aspect of good journalism. Everything in a news story revolves around the facts it contains. News that is based on accurate, verifiable facts helps give us well-informed citizens and a strong democracy. News that is based largely on opinions can be polarizing and takes away from healthy public debate.

• Is it fair?
Is it impartial? Or is it biased? Is the reporter presenting all sides of the story? Or does he or she take sides? It is a journalist’s responsibility to seek out all angles of a controversy. This doesn’t mean that every side must be given the same amount of space in a story. But it should be clear that the reporter offered all the key players in the story a chance to make their core arguments, or choose not to comment. If it is not, then the story’s fairness will suffer. It is not a journalist’s job to decide who is "right" or "wrong," but present all sides fairly so we can come to our own conclusions.

• Is it well-sourced?
Does this story provide enough sources to validate its key information? Are the sources clearly identified? Count the number of sources cited: a good news story usually includes several sources with independent perspectives, both official and unofficial. The author should establish why each source is cited – and if they're anonymous, explain why. Many news stories would not have the same impact without anonymous sources, but they must be used carefully and be identified in some way as to allow the viewer to understand why the source is being cited in the first place.

• Do you recommend this story?
Is this quality journalism? Would you recommend this story to a friend or colleague? Is this information you think they should know, based on the questions you just answered?

• Do you trust this publication?
Can this news source be trusted? Does this publication usually offer reliable information? Is it trustworthy, based on the stories you've reviewed and what you know about the publisher? Credibility tracks a publication's reputation for journalistic quality, which helps it maintain a good dialogue with its audience.

Remember these review tips next time you read, watch or listen to the news – and try to use this review form as a checklist, to determine whether it is good (or bad) journalism.

5. NEWS VS. OPINION

One last thing for you to keep in mind is the difference between news and opinion:

News informs. Opinion persuades.
News is based on multiple viewpoints. Opinion is based on singular viewpoints.
News believes the facts speak for themselves. Opinion believes informed arguments do.
News is objective and impersonal. Opinion is subjective and personal.

News formats include:

  1. News Report – disseminating facts the public needs to know
  2. News Analysis – interpreting issues and events objectively and impersonally
  3. Special Report – focusing in-depth on an issue, newsmaker or event
  4. Breaking News – covering news events as they happen
  5. Investigative Reporting – disclosing data, documents, and testimony
  6. Poll – surveying the public about issues, newsmakers and events

Opinion formats include:

  1. Opinion – a stance about an issue, newsmaker or event
  2. Editorial – the voice of an entire publication, such as a newspaper or television station
  3. Interview – questions and answers featuring a newsmaker or source
  4. Speech – spoken remarks by a newsmaker or source
  5. Comment – statement or blog post about issues, newsmakers and events

Remember these definitions when you review stories with the NewsTrust site.

To learn more about recognizing good journalism, whether it is news or opinion, read our other online guides.

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