WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — In this digital age, there are a plethora of possibilities when it comes to consuming news. Since Monday marks the start of National News Literacy Week, WPTV.com has compiled five tips to help you navigate the terrain and differentiate news from noise.
Always look for a trusted author.
Did you notice the byline as you begin to read this story? All locally produced WPTV.com articles that originate from one of our reporters or digital staff will have bylines and a photograph that appear just below the poster image and above the first paragraph. The reason for this is twofold — accountability and credibility.
Both are meant to serve the audience.
The accountability is to put a name and a face to the conveyer of information we are disseminating. In doing so, we stake our reputations — as well as our employer's reputation — and open ourselves up to criticism.
Even though we are held to a higher standard because of the profession that we choose, we're still human and we've made mistakes before. Obviously, our goal is to always be accurate and fair, but we're not beyond reproach. We try to own our mistakes and, hopefully, learn from them.
This is equally important when it comes to credibility.
Have you ever read a book that you enjoyed so much, you decided to read more of the author's work? It's the same idea here.
Articles with bylines are ways for a reader to identify with their audience. The more a particular author publishes content about a certain subject, the more their audience will rely on that person in the future. It's an author-reader relationship built on trust and respect.
There are also business ramifications to those articles authored by a person rather than a collective staff. If you've been a longtime reader of WPTV.com, you may recall there was a time when you saw more stories written by "WPTV Web Team." Those days are over.
Google has an author ranking index, but it's only applicable to individual content creators. The world's top search engine values articles written by people rather than staffs, so you're more likely to stumble across our content in a Google search if it has a name associated with it.
Sometimes, you may read a byline that reads "Associated Press" or "NBC News." This is content provided by our media partners. Scripps, our parent company, also employs a national team of digital producers who author original articles and curate content from our sister stations throughout the country.
Read beyond the headline.
Headlines are meant to summarize the article you are about to read, and the best ones tend to grab your attention, but they often don't provide the context of a story. That's why it's important to read beyond the headline or subhead of an article.
More than half of you who share this story on social media will do so without ever reading past the headline, according to a 2016 Columbia University study. But why?
In this social media era, there seems to be shorter and shorter attention spans and less willingness to read a long-form news story, but hopefully those aforementioned trusted authors are writing engaging and informative articles to keep you interested.
A good headline is meant to draw you into the story, but if you don't take the time to read beyond it, you may wind up uninformed about the issue that led you to the headline in the first place. Remember, knowledge is power.
Diversify your sources.
As much as we'd love to tell you that watching WPTV and consuming our digital products alone is all you need to get your news fix, the reality is, that's not likely to be the case.
Differentiation is key to becoming more news literate.
There are so many media outlets online that it often seems like the wild west. Some content is free, like WPTV. Some content comes at a cost or is hidden behind a paywall. Not all of them will interest you.
Niche news typically requires a financial commitment, but these are usually incentivized based on the frequency by which you consume the content.
When I want to read about sports, I have a few go-to websites, but when I want to know specifically about the latest Florida State football news, I'll visit Warchant.com (well worth the cost, all you Seminoles out there).
Many of the stories you'll read on WPTV.com have hyperlinks to previous reports or curated content from other supporting sources. This is deliberate so that the reader can make his or her own determination about the authenticity of the information and, again, so that the author can build his or her trust with the reader.
Don't believe everything you see on social media.
We realize more people get their news from social media, which is why media organizations like WPTV have developed strategies to ensure that our content reaches you wherever you are in the world. But we can't control the other news sources that permeate your news feeds.
Just because someone shares what looks to be legitimate, there are plenty of satire sites out there that are meant to imitate the look of more reputable news organizations. That's where knowing authors you trust comes into play.
Even if it is a legitimate news story, it might not necessarily be current. Facebook and Twitter algorithms can sometimes cause days-old posts to surface in your feeds.
The News Literacy Project discovered that 63% of Americans have a hard time differentiating legitimate news from "fake news," a term that has been around for decades but became a popular phrase during the tenure of President Donald Trump.
That same study revealed that 68% of Americans used social media to get their news, but 57% said they didn't even trust what they read on those sites.
It's also important to remember that stories evolve, so if there's a particular subject that interests you, be sure to check the date and time stamp on the article. There could be an important update that you're missing.
Be cognizant of your own biases.
Algorithms don't necessarily discriminate, so sometimes a popular idea or narrative can saturate your social media news feed, even if it's inaccurate.
But algorithms also reflect our own biases.
As mentioned earlier, it's not uncommon to see an older story resurface on social media to support a particular narrative.
Facebook's algorithms elevate posts that encourage "meaningful interactions" with others, which could increase the likelihood that divisive content winds up in your news feed.
The news feed is reflective of each user's expressed interest, so if there's a media outlet or topic that you like, expect to see more of it. You can reward the sites you enjoy and trust by consuming their content and interacting with their audience, but if you don't want to give much credence to something, just keep on scrolling.