It’s harder than it may seem to tell the difference between real and fake news, when all you have is a headline to guide you. That’s why the Alliance and our Support Real News partners encourage you to read past the headlines and really get to know your news.
When it comes to figuring out if a story comes from a reliable source, you have to do a little bit of work.
Find out who’s publishing the story
If you’re reading on a site that’s new to you, hunt around for the site’s About Us page and see if it’s a satirical or joke site. While satirical stories are not exactly the same as purposely fake news, they can often be mistaken for real news when shared across social media. As a first step, you should weed out any satire.
“Usually, if a site has something patriotic in the title, it’s fake news designed to play on the sympathies of people who think they’re being patriotic by reading it,” advises journalist and author Caren Lissner. “Some of these sites are run by out-of-the-country fake news scammers. Simple tip: look to see who is running the site; it should have a staff box. No accountability, no trust. Also, do they ever print corrections?”
Do a background check on the journalist
You should also research the article’s author. Check out his or her social media accounts and other work, and find out what he or she typically writes about. If his or her other stories seem suspicious or opinionated as opposed to fact-based, take the article you’re reading with a grain of salt.
“I keep a list of my own favorite journalists. People like Rukmini Callamachi and Shaun King often report their findings directly from the field via Twitter and are highly-respected by many journalists,” says journalist Elizabeth Walsh. “Pay attention to who is telling the story, not just where it’s published. Journalists tend to make their backgrounds public. Ask questions like, why are a bunch of men discussing women’s rights with only one woman to give her opinion? It’s not enough for journalists to invite experts on Islam to speak about Muslims; listen to and read Muslim journalists, too — they’re going to ask different questions, ones that you might never have considered if you’re not Muslim.
“The next time you read an article that really makes you think, make a note of who wrote it,” Walsh adds. “Set up a Google alert for their name or follow them on Twitter.”
Go to the source
Next, check the sources cited in the article. Have they been quoted elsewhere, on a site you’re familiar with and trust? Are they listed on their organization’s website? Is there other press that talks about the sources? If so, check to see if what the article is saying matches what is presented elsewhere. If not, there’s a chance the quotes have been manufactured, especially if the person quoted is a high-profile figure.
“As a former news researcher at USA Today and now a fact checker with AARP publications, my first rule has always been, ‘Are there at least two other sources that can confirm the statement or fact?’” says Susan O’Brian. “For statistics, ‘Is there a study or report?’ For quotes, ‘[Is there] at least some other primary source that has the same statement or something similar by that individual?’”
Find out what other reporters are saying
If the story seems too good to be true, it probably is. Research what other people are saying about the article. Are other journalists referencing it in their reporting? Are they talking about it on social media? Journalists are extremely prolific social media users, so if a big story hits, they’re going to be talking about it. If they’re not, you’ve probably found yourself reading fake news.
Make sure you’re not mistaking op-eds for news
It’s also important to note the difference between news stories and opinion pieces or columns. “This might sound like it’s overly simplistic, but oftentimes the opinion pieces will have the writer’s photo on it or there will be a name to the column, but you don’t see that in a news article,” says columnist Meredith Carroll. “You also shouldn’t hear the writer’s opinion in a news piece. They should be presenting both sides of the story, even if they’re writing about the side you agree with.”
By going beyond the headline, you’re more likely to find the real story and not be duped by fake news.
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.