As we continue to endure these challenging times together, it is important to remember that this once-in-a-lifetime event offers incredible opportunities for learning and growth. In particular, we are all witnessing an increasing division within the country, as different groups of people respond to tragic events in very different ways. We face a choice: Allow our own biases and experiences to harden our hearts and widen the divide, or reach out with empathy and understanding to heal ourselves and our country.
One key to reaching that goal will also lend itself well to the rest of your academic career. As you read or watch news reports, practice these critical reading (and listening, and thinking) skills. Your sharpened abilities will serve you well now and in the future.
Read the entire article. Even adults have now developed the poor habit of reacting to, or sharing, things on social media purely because the headline is sensational. Before doing that, click in to read the entire article. Does the story match the headline? Are supporting, verifiable facts offered? Look at the top of the article to see if it is labeled “opinion” or “editorial” (and if it isn’t labeled that way, you shouldn’t get the feeling that you’re reading the reporter’s opinion). Continue reading all the way to the end, to ensure that important details (that might change the narrative somewhat) aren’t overlooked.
Check the sources. Sources are human too, and have their own motivations. Are sources “unnamed”? If known, what are their general political leanings? What other agendas do they have at stake?
Take a second look at quotes. Do they fit the overall story? Do they seem accurate? Are they abridged or possibly taken out of context? Does the reporter offer quotes from both sides of an issue?
It can often be helpful to look up the source of the entire quote and double check it for context. YouTube can be incredibly helpful in this regard, because you can often find a quoted individual’s entire statement.
Is “emotional” language used? Ideally, reporting should be purely objective; you should be told the facts about what happened, not what to think about those events. This can often be done subtly, but it’s dishonest all the same. For example, a news article might inform you that a senator introduced new legislation, include perhaps a quote from them or their party, and also offer some additional pertinent factual information from verifiable sources. If you spot language such as, “the combative senator” or “introduced this legislation as retaliation for”, it is possible the news source is attempting to lead you to a certain conclusion.
Are questions left unanswered? If you finish the article and feel as though important questions were not addressed, you should seek that information.
Is the context or historical information accurate? A story that is framed within the wrong context, or without accurate historical information on the topic, will serve to obscure the truth. Investigate any historical or contextual information offered (or not offered) by the reporter.
Look for other reports, from different channels, on the same event. It is always a good idea to check for multiple sources on the same information, in order to form a well-rounded view on the topic.
Ask who owns the source. Currently, just six conglomerates own nearly all of the media in the United States. And we’re not just talking about the news networks; ownership extends to TV shows, streaming services, movies, and even video games. Checking sources owned by different conglomerates will often help you to understand the full scope of an issue.