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Deconstruction Guide for Evaluating a News Source

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

dog newspaperby Brittany Cagle, an MFA student at USF in Creative Writing and a Writing Studio consultant

Don’t be tricked by unreliable news sources—

  1. Summarize the main points of the story.

Do the headline and “lead” support the main point(s) of the story?

  1. Assess the evidence supporting the main points of the story:

What is verified?

What is asserted?

  1. How close does the reporter come to opening the freezer?

Is the evidence direct or indirect? (Open the Freezer: Truth-Testing the News)

  1. Are the sources reliable?

Sources checklist:

  • Named sources are better than unnamed sources
  • Multiple sources are better than a single source
  • Authoritative sources are better than uninformed sources
  • Sources who verify are better than sources that assert:

“I know” vs. “I believe”

  • Independent sources are better than self-interested sources
  1. Does the reporter make his or her work transparent?

(Media transparency is the concept of determining how and why information is conveyed through various means)

In communication studies, media is transparent when:

  • there are many sources of information—all in competition of each other
  • the method of information delivery is known
  • the funding of media production is publicly available
  1. Does the reporter place the story in context?
  1. Are the key questions answered?

Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

  1. Is the story fair?

Can you reach a conclusion, take an action, or make a judgment?

 

Example 1:_________________________________________ 

Pregnant man is expecting baby in July 

BY COMBINED NEWS SERVICE 

March 27, 2008, The Advocate Magazine

An Oregon transgendered man who used to be a woman says he’s five months pregnant.

Thomas Beatie, who’s expecting a girl, tells his story in a first-person account published in “The Advocate” magazine that includes a picture of him while he was 22 weeks pregnant.

Beatie, legally a male, lives with his wife, Nancy.  He claims to have stopped taking his testosterone injections to get pregnant.  “Sterilization is not a requirement for sex reassignment, so I decided to have chest reconstruction and testosterone therapy, but kept my reproductive right.” he wrote in the story for the gay and lesbian magazine.

“How does it feel to be a pregnant man?  Incredible,” he adds. “Despite the fact that my belly is growing with a new life inside me, I am stable and confident being the man that I am.”

Beatie is expected to give birth in July.

How many sources are used? Are they reliable? Why or why not? What is missing from this news story?

 

Example 2:_________________________________________ 

The Chinese toddler chained through love and fear

Tania Branigan in Beijing, The Guardian

It was a picture that shocked viewers around the world: a Chinese toddler chained to a post outside a shopping centre in the freezing Beijing winter.

However, behind the image of two-year-old Jingdan lies a tale not of intentional cruelty but, it seems, one of misplaced love and fear: his sister disappeared from the same spot just two weeks ago.

“I was afraid I would lose him too,” their father, Chen Chuanliu, said today.

Four-year-old Jinghong has not been seen since 22 January, when Chen left her playing with friends while he worked. Although Beijing is generally regarded as safe, he, like nearby residents, believes she has been abducted.

Tens of thousands of children go missing each year in China; most are the offspring of impoverished migrant workers like Chen, snatched and then sold on for anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand pounds. Officials have warned that the problem is on the rise.

Boys are often sold to families desperate for an heir; girls can be reared as future brides for rural men. Both sexes are taken for labour or to beg for gangs, say experts. 

Does the reporter place the story in context? 

 

Example 3:_________________________________________ 

Report Says Principal Put Students in Cage to Fight

By GRETEL C. KOVACH 

DALLAS — A high school principal and his security staff shut feuding students in a steel cage to settle disputes with bare-knuckle fistfights, according to an internal report by the Dallas Independent School District.

The principal of South Oak Cliff High School, Donald Moten, was accused by several school employees of sanctioning the “cage fights” between students in a steel equipment enclosure in a boy’s locker room, where “troubled” youth fought while a security guard watched, according to the confidential March 2008 report first obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

Such fights occurred several times over the course of two years, the report said.

Mr. Moten, who resigned from the district in 2008 while under investigation in connection with a grade-changing scandal, denies the cage-fight accusations.

“That’s barbaric,” he told The Dallas Morning News. “You can’t do that at a high school. You can’t do that anywhere. It never happened.”

But investigators with the district’s Office of Professional Responsibility gathered testimony from two employees at South Oak Cliff High who said they had witnessed students fighting in the cage from 2003 to 2005, among others who heard about the fights.

One employee overheard Mr. Moten tell a security guard to take two students who had been at each other for days and “put ’em in the cage and let them duke it out,” the report states, and the practice was so embedded in the school’s culture that one student remarked to a teacher that he was “gonna be in the cage.”

Find an example of direct evidence, then find an example of indirect evidence. 

 

Example 4:_________________________________________ 

In Southern Afghan City, Fears of Taliban Takeover

By Noor Khan and Nahal Toosi

The Associated Press

KANDAHAR, AfghanistanSouthern Afghanistan’s largest city, Kandahar, is slipping back under Taliban control as overstretched U.S. troops focus on clearing insurgents from the countryside — a potentially alarming setback for President Barack Obama’s war strategy.

Afghan authorities promise a counteroffensive against the militants in Kandahar — a pledge that appears aimed primarily at boosting public morale after a devastating bombing killed 43 people on Tuesday.

“Because there’s one bombing, it doesn’t mean the situation is going down the tubes,” said Maj. Mario Couture, a spokesman for NATO in Kandahar province.

Nevertheless, many Afghans believe more Taliban forces are operating clandestinely in the city, while the Islamist movement tightens its grip on districts just outside the urban center.

As guerrillas, the Taliban doubtless don’t want to capture and run the city. Instead their goal is probably to wield enough influence to block any government efforts to expand services, prevent international relief agencies from operating there, force merchants to pay protection money and undermine the government’s image in one of the country’s major cities.

“The Taliban are inside the city. They are very active. They can do anything they want,” said an Afghan employee of an international aid organization who requested anonymity because he feared reprisals from the militants.

Identify and weigh the anonymous source. 

 

Example 5:_________________________________________  

Pulling all-nighters earns lower GPAs

By Michael Virtanen, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. — Students who rely on all-nighters to bring up their grades might want to sleep on that strategy: A new survey says those who never study all night have slightly higher GPAs than those who do.

A survey of 120 students at St. Lawrence University, a small liberal arts college in northern New York, found that students who have never pulled an all-nighter have average GPAs of 3.1, compared to 2.9 for those who have.

The study, by assistant professor of psychology Pamela Thacher, is to be included in the January issue of Behavioral Sleep Medicine.

“It’s not a big difference, but it’s pretty striking,” Thacher said. “I am primarily a sleep researcher and I know nobody thinks clearly at 4 in the morning. You think you do, but you can’t.”

A second study by Thacher, a clinical psychologist, had “extremely similar” results showing lower grades among the sleep skippers. Many college students, of course, have inadequate or irregular sleep, for reasons ranging from excessive caffeine to poor time management.

Prav Chatani, a St. Lawrence sophomore who wasn’t involved in either study, said the findings made sense.

The neuroscience major has been pulling fewer all-nighters, but recently stayed up until “around 4 or 5 in the morning” to prepare for an organic chemistry test and a neuroscience presentation, he said.

He found himself unable to remember some of the things he had studied.

“A lot of students were under the impression all-nighters were a very useful tool for accomplishing work, that caffeine intake was very useful in meeting deadlines and stuff like that,” said Chatani, who had a 3.4 GPA last semester and doesn’t expect to do too badly this semester, either. Dr. Howard Weiss, a physician at St. Peter’s Sleep Center in Albany, said the study results make sense.

“Certainly that data is out there showing that short sleep duration absolutely interferes with concentration, interferes with performance on objective testing,” he said.

Find an example of inference.

 

Example 6:_________________________________________ 

Club Ultra closed because of safety violations

By Karla Ray, NBC2 News

NAPLES: Huge spring break crowds and dangerous fire violations don’t mix anywhere, and in North Naples they’ve gotten a popular club closed for the weekend.

Fire inspectors on Friday shut down Club Ultra, located at 15495 Tamiami Trail, because of safety violations.

“We found numerous life safety issues that needed to be rectified,” said Sal D’Angelo, deputy chief of the North Naples Fire District.

Liquor shipments were turned away Friday, traded instead for fire system inspections.

Signs on the club’s front door detailed the violations, which included expired fire extinguishers, an improper sprinkler system and unsuitable locks on the doors – to name a few.

“The fire alarm panel needed to be tested and inspected, you had a fire sprinkler system that needs inspection, electrical issues that need to be taken care of,” D’Angelo said.

“We want to work with building owners and the business owners, but our number one goal is life safety, and we’re trying to prevent our people in our buildings from getting hurt and or killed.”

From the club’s standpoint, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Pictures found on Facebook say it all: The line was through the parking lot Wednesday. Girls Gone Wild hosted an event at the club, and hundreds of spring breakers followed.

Crowds like this, according to D’Angelo, make the situation life-threatening.

“From the overcrowding perspective, the potential for something to happen if a fire were to break out it would be very dangerous,” he said.

The problems are already being fixed, but D’Angelo says people will have to find another place to party this weekend.

Attempts to reach the club’s owners were unsuccessful. 

  1. Find an example of transparency.

 

  1. Are all of the major questions answered?
 

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