Since the dawn of 24/7 cable news some 30 years ago, the lines between fact and opinion in our news reporting have become increasingly blurred. The dawn of the Internet has amplified this effect, bringing with it many different perspectives across the political spectrum through which we digest our news. This can be a good thing as it has given previously marginalized voices a platform, but it has also facilitated the spread of “news reporting” that not only contains obvious biases, but outright falsehoods and flimsy conspiracy theories–actual fake news. Now that we have a president that has weaponized the term fake news for his own political gain, the very concept of reality can seem to be up for grabs. It’s no wonder the public’s faith in the news media is at an all-time low.
So how can we and our students better navigate the media landscape to detect bias and determine fact from fiction from opinion? Two news source tools that I’ve come across recently that are up to the task are AllSides.com and Read Across the Aisle. The former is a website that presents every news story with three articles: one that slants right, one that slants left, and one from the center. This is similar to KCRW’s excellent Left, Right, & Center podcast. Read Across the Aisle is a mobile app that aggregates current news articles from over 20 news sources across the political spectrum, ranging from HuffPo to FOX News, and it comes with a handy reading habits meter that tells how balanced your media diet is. As you can see at the bottom of the image to the right, I’m doing pretty well staying in the middle. The other cool thing about this app is that embedded in all of its articles is the research-backed BeeLine Reader the that displays color gradients that wrap from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. This, according to the app’s website, facilitates visual tracking and enables the reader to focus on other aspects of reading, such as decoding and comprehension. Another great tool that Polson Library Media Specialist Dawn Fiorelli discovered recently is Factitious, a fun, interactive game designed a to test users’ ability to detect fake news from real.
If we’re to succeed in our collective goal of producing well informed media-literate citizens who will someday chart the course of our nation, these tools are vital. For every standard-bearing “rock-solid” piece of reporting, there is a revisionist counterpoint article that seeks to invalidate its claims, calling into question what is real. Even the sober-minded fact-checking sites we sometimes direct our students to, like FactCheck, Politifact, Snopes, and many more, have come under attack for being biased. The result can leave one feeling unmoored, head spinning, out of touch with objective truth. Who do I believe?! Or worse, we end up feeding our own confirmation biases by retreating to our respective media silos. To co-opt a term from our Tweeter-in-Chief, Sad! Hopefully, with some carefully designed learning activities that leverage some of the tools linked above, we, as educators, can reverse this unsettling trend and foster in our students a balanced media diet. Let me know if you’d like to explore the possibilities together. You know how to reach me.