How to be a smart news consumer


What does "fake new" mean to you?

When President Trump uses the term, he means news, true or not, that is critical of him or his policies. When some others use the term, they mean news that doesn't support their own biases about what's true.

Real "fake news" is just that: utterly false reports made up out of whole cloth and passed off as true on social media such as Facebook. Some of this stuff is supposedly "satire," but it's not clearly labeled that way.

Then there are "news" items that are harder to evaluate at first glance. If you are a Facebook user, you will see these pop up in your "news feed" — an unfortunate term, if you ask me.

Some of these are real, honest-to-god news stories, produced by real, honest-to-god news organizations, such as a newspaper, a television network or a local TV station's news crew. Some of them are opinion pieces — editorials or opinion columns — also posted by a legitimate news source. Often they are labeled with a header that says "Opinion," or "Perspective," or "Viewpoint" — but it's easy to mistake them for news stories.

Print newspapers like this one clearly label the pages that contain opinion, to differentiate them from straight news. That distinction is getting harder to discern online.

Online-only "news" operations may or may not employ real journalists producing solid news stories that are heavy on facts. Or, they may have reporters, but their reporting is skewed to present stories with a particular point of view.

What if you just want straight news with as little slant as possible? What if you want to share stories you see but you want to be sure they are reliable?

The Newseum, a nonprofit, nonpartisan project in the nation's capital, has partnered with Facebook to provide a user's guide to evaluating online news, filtering out "junk news" in favor of the real thing.

Here are key questions the Newseum suggests you ask before sharing something you see online:

Is it real? Is the source reliable? Do a quick search of the source's name and key people or facts from the story, to see if they check out.

Is it well done? Posts with poor grammar and spelling, or those that "shout" with all capital letters are less likely to be reliable.

Is it news or opinion?

Does it present the issue in context, giving the big picture, or concentrate on only one side of the story?

Does it use facts — statistics, studies, expert analysis?

Is it biased — clearly and openly intended to appeal to Democrats, for instance, or Republicans, or does it hide its bias, pretending it's not biased at all?

Finally, what is the item's purpose? Is it intended to inform, entertain, or for some darker reason, such as scamming people for profit or hurting someone?

If the item you're looking at passes these tests, it's more likely to be worth sharing.

— Reach Editorial Page Editor Gary Nelson at

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