By: Lauren Ratliff and Emily Sydnor
Americans get information about what is going on in the nation and the world through the news media. While the media cannot tell us what to believe, they control what news we see and how that news is presented. In other words, the media don’t tell you what to think, they tell you what to think about. Media sets the agenda; they select which stories to report on and which stories to avoid. They influence what we think is important and what criteria we use when evaluating politicians, policies and the government generally. Media can also influence individuals’ interpretation of the news by framing it in a certain way. Support for welfare policies increases, for example, when it is discussed in terms of providing aid to children and decreases when it is discussed in terms of giving handouts to individuals who do not have jobs. Media can even persuade individuals to form or change an opinion on an issue.
Because of all this, the media is a powerful moderator of political information in America. It is important that we are aware of the power and biases that media possesses in conveying this information; therefore, we must read and consume knowledge with a critical eye and an open mind. Here are some things to keep in mind before, during, and after you read a news article.
Before You Read
- Consider the source: Which news outlet is the source? Does the particular news source have any known biases or political leanings? Is it known to cover entertainment or cultural news in addition to politics? Does it face specific space constraints that prevent the journalist from going in depth on complicated issues?
- Consider the type: Is the news article reporting on facts or someone’s opinion of the issue? If the article is an opinion piece, it conveys an individual’s own thoughts about an issue, and it’s goal is to persuade you to take their side.
- Consider the title: What is the article about? Are there certain words in the title that bring up positive or negative associations? How will those associations affect how you read and process the article?
- Consider what you know about the subject: What information do you already have about the topic? What do you not know that you would like to? What are your opinions and biases about the issue?
As You Read
- Consider the point: What is the main point of the article? What is most significant about this story? In good journalism, this is typically conveyed in the first paragraph. What is the author trying to claim or argue?
- Consider the evidence: What evidence does the author provide to support his or her argument? Do you believe the evidence? Why or why not?
After You Read
- Consider other sources: How do other news sources present information on the issue? Are there any disparities between them?
- Consider what you learned: What did you learn that you did not know before? How did your thoughts about the issue change (or not) from reading the article?
- Consider what you will do with the information: What will you do with the information you learned? How does it apply to your life?
Remember, be open-minded when considering political media coverage. While many are quick to declare the media ideologically biased, there are other constraints on journalists that prevent most coverage from slanting heavily to the left or the right. The best thing you can do to improve your media literacy and understanding of tough political issues is to read, listen, or watch a broad range of sources and use the approach outlined above to question the information you are given.
Find out more about Emily and her interesting research here.