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COMM 60: Journalism (Davis)

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Evaluating Sources

Here are some ideas on how to evaluate the quality of sources. Not every element is relevant for every topic.

  • Credentials of the author - Is the author an expert in the field, someone writing/speaking outside their area of expertise, a knowledgeable amateur, or someone with limited / no knowledge of the topic?
  • Reputation of the source - Similar to author's credentials, some sources have a reputation for objectivity while others are know to have a particular bias
  • Bias - every author/source exhibits some bias. Is the bias obvious or subtle? Is the author clearly arguing a position or claiming to be neutral but they really aren't. For example, appealing to "common sense gun control" sounds neutral, but can mean very different things to conservatives and liberals.
  • Source is a special interest (e.g., nonprofit, company) - These sources can have a built-in bias, but still provide very useful information.
  • Type of source (e.g. newspaper, book, social media site) - Each format shapes the information in certain ways.
  • Date of publication - Sometimes you need the most recent information, sometimes older information is just as well. If you want the Roman Catholic Church's views on lesbians and gays, officially it hasn't really changed much in recent decades. If you need to know the legal status for lesbians / gays, you need the latest federal or state information.
  • Information presented can be verified - reputable news organizations try to find at least two sources that can verify the information
  • Line between facts and opinion is clear - sometimes the difference is obvious (e.g., editorials), sometimes challenging to detect.
  • Does the evidence presented supports the conclusion(s)?