OPINION: A journalist’s perspective on finding news sources

An attendee of the Bernie Sanders rally takes a photo on their phone at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds in Lawrence, Kansas on March 3, 2016. (Archive Photo by George Walker | Collegian Media Group)

More and more people are getting their news from social media. There’s a solid chance you clicked on a Facebook or Twitter link to get here, whether it was because you follow the Collegian specifically or because someone shared this on your feed.

According to a Pew Research study by Elisa Shearer and Jeffrey Gottfried, approximately two-thirds of people get at least some of their news from social media. This is good because it means that news sources are in the right place to reach news consumers. It’s also bad due to the fact that anyone can access social media.

Some people have too much time on their hands and make it a point to spread information. “Fake news writer” is an actual job meant to mislead the general public, and then there are internet trolls who, for whatever reason, just want to watch the world burn.

So as I’m skimming through my news feed, this is what I look for.

1. Look out for inflammatory, loaded or emotional language

In my middle school writing class, there was a poster saying, “‘Said’ is dead.” As a student journalist, I’ve learned that “said” is really the only safe word to use.

The difference in connotations between “said” and “claimed” might not seem very big, but it impacts the credibility of a source when used. Word choice is a writer’s greatest weapon, and journalists have to fine tune it to maintain neutrality.

An example of this is the back-and-forth I have seen in regards to whether Mark Conditt, the serial bomber who attacked Austin, Texas, should be called a terrorist. As NPR‘s Andrew Weber reported, the Austin Police Chief did not originally want to refer to Conditt as such because there is a legal definition of terrorism that could not be officially used, but many expressed that not calling him a terrorist is racist.

I’m not here to argue who is right or wrong. I’m here to say that until law enforcement said he was a terrorist, a news article couldn’t label him as one. I would have distrusted any news source I found that used that label without referring to a source’s statement — preferably from an official source such as the Austin Police Chief.

2. Look out for information you can’t seem to fact check yourself.

In a perfect world, you would be able to trust anything anyone posted online. If that were the case, I would not be writing what I am now.

A super quick Google search will help you determine if what you’re reading is more or less accurate. For the more national issues, there should be numerous postings about the same issue.

This can get a little dicey for the more local stories as they don’t typically get a lot of attention from multiple outlets, but you should generally be able to find official sources such as the local police department or city officials to back up the story.

3. Look out for your local news sources.

Reading big, domineering news outlets is fine, but they can’t reach the local level like your hometown news outlet. The reporters on this level know your next door neighbor, the founder of that club, the new business owner — all the people that make a town a community.

If something happens in your hometown, your local news outlet will be the best (if not the only) outlet covering it. Even if an event or situation does draw national interest, the news outlet in that area has home-field advantage.

The only thing journalists like myself want is to help you stay informed with the most accurate information available. Unfortunately, we have to compete with fake news or less than reputable sources on social media.

The last thing I want to do is give you a list of news outlets I deem credible — mostly because I know even the best outlets can make mistakes — but I do hope that some of these tips help you slow down and think about what you’re reading or watching beyond just “this doesn’t align with what I already think.”

Perhaps an outlet you already follow will start to seem a tad questionable after reading these tips. Perhaps it will only strengthen your trust in it already.

Kelsey Kendall is a senior in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

Hi everyone! I'm was a senior in journalism and cultural anthropology. My favorite things are storytelling, coffee and meeting new people. In that order.