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Evaluating Media Sources: Evaluating Media Bias

A guide for evaluating social and news media, online sources of information, and identifying bias for Journalism I.

What is Bias?

The perception that information or news is being reported in a partial or prejudice manner. Media bias is influenced by the reporter's viewpoint, rather than an objective retelling, and may be politically, socially, or historically motivated. Media bias can manifest itself in the form of:

  • bias by omission: leaving out or ignoring facts that disprove or question the story
  • bias by selection of sources: claiming that "experts believe" or "most people agree" to present one side of the story
  • bias by story/news selection: selecting stories or events that fit within a narrative - and ignoring others that do not
  • bias by placement: placing stories that support the bias in a prominent or important spot (i.e. first headline of a news paper or "breaking story" of a news cast")
  • bias by labeling: using words with weak or negative connotations in order to discredit a story, or vice versa
  • bias by spin: presenting one side of the story or event in a more favorable light

Recognizing Bias

Criteria for Evaluating Sources

Currency: the timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Is the information current or out-of date for your topic?
  • Are the links functional?

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?

Authority: the source of the information

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or sources
    • examples: .com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (U.S. government), .org (nonprofit organization), or .net (network)

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Purpose: the reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? to inform? teach? sell? entertain? persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? opinion? propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

Media Bias Resources