Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Newspaper Databases: Evaluating Newspapers

Links to databases containing Newspapers.

Traditional News Sources

Traditional newspapers are periodic, often daily, publications written by journalists. Journalists seek to inform their readers and explain events, sometimes offering commentary on them. 

The majority of newspapers in the United States serve local communities. Some newspapers have a national prominence beyond their cities of publication, The New York Times and the Washington Post being examples.

News Article

The news article is the standard component of the traditional newspaper. These articles are often meant to inform the reader of events, possibly with some added interpretation of them. By creating a published account, newspapers serve as an important tool in documenting events.

The general expectation of a news article is that it reports the facts. Nonetheless, various newspapers might display bias in both the material it choses to cover (or not cover) and in the way it convers the news.

There are independent, high-quality news organizations whose coverage is syndicated. Examples include the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters

Opinion Article (Op-ed)

Newspapers often have sections in them devoted to opinion. In the world of electronic newspapers, opinion and news articles might be merged. If you read a news article online, look for articles labeled "Opinion." These so called "editorials" or "Op-eds" are letters selected by the newspaper editor for inclusion in the paper. They might also be the opinions of the newspaper's editor. 

Opinion pieces are meant to reflect the opinions of the people who write them, and usually do not carry any expectations of neutrality. 

Certain newspapers and sources are known having a partisan slant to their opinion pages, and possibly their news coverage.

Online News Sources

Online News

All major newspapers have an online presence. Online news sources include online-only publications, of which the quality varies widely. Just because a publication has a professional looking website does not make it a source that conforms to professional journalistic standards. 

Evaluate each online source for its own merits and potential or obvious biases. There are many news websites and blogs that are intended to appeal to a particular audience rather than to the general public.

Cable News

Cable News channels have a major online presence, including written coverage in addition to videos. Cable news is particularly known for political bias. Much cable news coverage freely mixes news reporting with opinion. The major examples are CNN, Fox, and MSNBC.

Legacy News (Broadcast Media)

Prior to the cable news era, most broadcast news was controlled by a small number of broadcasters (like NBC, CBS, and the PBS Newshour) that upheld high journalistic standards and served as gatekeepers of information in a way similar to the major newspapers. 

The wide availability of sources online means that there is no longer a central gatekeeper for the news, a fact that is both celebrated and lamented. 

Evaluating News Sources

The key to evaluating news sources, especially online, is not to believe everything you read. Predatory news publishers, those who seek to mislead you, will attempt to take advantage of the human tendency to trust. The first, and most significant step, to evaluating sources is to be aware that not everything you read or hear is correct, sometimes as the result of an accidental error, and other times as a result of intentional misinformation. Some news is developing, and will change as the facts change. 

Being a responsible consumer of news requires you to consider each source you encounter and to run a quick mental checklist that considers the real value of the source to your project and the veracity of the source's information itself. 

One of the greatest strategies in research is convergence. Look for facts that are written and spoken about by more than one source. 

Critical Thinking and News Evaluation: A Brief Guide

Currency

  • Sometimes the facts change as new information emerges.
  • Always be aware of when an article or story was published and/or originally aired.
  • Sources without a date are not useful!

Relevance

  • The online environment is full of information. Sometimes it is easier to settle for the first article or two we find in an online search rather than looking for more relevant, possibly more accurate sources. 
  • Going with the first thing you see is known as the Availability heuristic. Beware of treating the first source you find on a topic as the most relevant just because it was the first (or second) you found!
  • Be able to state your basic relevancy criteria when you use information from a source. 
  • If a source matches your preexisting views, be sure that you have other reasons to use it beyond your personal bias! 
  • Multiple sources that support a claim are preferable to only one!

Authority

  • All publications will either convey a degree of authority or else invite skepticism based on the "brand" communicated by the publication.
  • Always consider the source you are reading. If you don't know anything about the source, you can always find information about it from a quick internet search.
  • The greatest authority in journalism comes from a publication's commitment to editorial rigor. Better known publishers will have a commitment to fact checking, for example.
    • Does a source communicate its principles to journalistic ethics on its website?
    • Does a source have an overt political leaning or purpose?

Accuracy

  • The function of most journalism is to inform the reader. Beware of journalism and news where the main purpose is to persuade you of a point of view. Opinion and journalism are not the same thing!
  • Always think about the logic and evidence used by a journalist. 
  • Does the journalist cite any relevant data or sources? How accurate are the sources? If they seem flimsy, they probably are--treat the piece accordingly.
  • An ethical and rigorous journalist will always have sources. Sources will be referenced in the article, although most journalists do not include bibliographies the way academic papers do. 

Misinformation

  • Misinformation is everywhere. It is nothing new. What is new is the sheer amount of it. 
  • Be on the lookout for misinformation in all news stories. If you read something in one source, is it possible to find more about it in another?
  • Misinformation is one of the more difficult critical thinking components to deal with when it comes evaluating news.
    • Often times, misinformation will contain a piece of truth.
    • It might, for example, include quotations or descriptions of someone's actions that, while technically true, are taken out of context.
  • Misinformation preys on your preexisting biases! Be willing to question an article or story that conforms to your existing beliefs. Critically evaluate it as you would a source you might disagree with.

Purpose

  • The purpose of rigorous journalism is to inform the reader. Beware of sources that seek to persuade you.
  • Try to ascertain the purpose of any article or story you read or watch.
  • Do not use a story for a purpose other than what was intended! 
  • Politics often mix with journalism. Always be aware of potential political leanings of a source.
    • If a source is political, you must consider the impact of political ideology on the source itself. 
  • Avoid sources that only seek to advance political ideas over facts, even if you agree with the politics!

Bias and the News

Bias

The history of American newspapers has not always been one of valuing neutrality. In fact, early American newspapers were notoriously partisan. Modern newspapers normally adhere to a standard of ethics that requires an expectation of neutrality in their reporting. News sources are so varied, however, that neutrality cannot be assumed without reason. News consumers should evaluate news sources for potential signs of undue bias:

  • Does the source use inflammatory language?
  • Does the source use highly partisan language? 
  • Does the source make claims without providing evidence?
  • Does the evidence in the story seem weak? 
  • Is the story more concerned with communicating political beliefs than it is reporting facts?

Know your own Biases

You should always consider bias in any news story you encounter. A healthy skepticism keeps you from believing and repeating just anything you read or hear.

Be aware, however, that the reason misinformation spreads is because ordinary people share it and repeat it as though it were accurate! It's just as important to evaluate the source of information as it is to evaluate your own biases!

Implicit Bias

All humans have biases to some extent. We inherit and learn biases from our upbringing and life experiences. These inherited and learned biases are termed implicit biases. Implicit biases can be difficult to spot in ourselves. They are usually thought of as unknown biases that a person holds that cause that person to favor members of his or her own group over other groups.

The opposite of an implicit bias is explicit bias, which describes a bias a person knowingly holds and acts on.

The important thing about being a critical consumer of information is being aware of your own biases while you try to detect those in the sources you encounter. 

How might implicit bias impact the way you read news stories on certain topics?

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias describes the tendency of humans to make a decision and then seek out information that supports that decision and avoid information that opposes it. 

Confirmation bias is important to the spread of misinformation because people with certain political beliefs on a topic, for example, will often judge a story by how well it conforms to those preexisting beliefs rather than other facts in evidence.

Confirmation bias acts as a type of implicit bias. Try to be aware of your reasoning habits. If you find yourself dismissing sources simply because they disagree with your current beliefs, you are probably guilty of confirmation bias.

News Bias Charts

Media Bias Chart 2018

Media Literacy Guide

Fake and False News

Fact Checking Websites

Fact checking is an important part of any legitimate journalistic operation. Fact checking websites are one place to try to find information about the veracity of a new story. Be aware that they can themselves sometimes draw controversy. Always look to where sources convergence on the facts.

If you are experiencing problems with our guides, please contact Janet S. Ward, jward@limestone.edu, Associate Professor and Web Services Librarian.