Keeping a Critical Eye on the News: How to Look Beyond the Headlines

A lot of accusations have been thrown around lately about fake news — by a pretty fake administration. Regardless, a good question is being raised: How can the public best interpret the media and all the conflicting headlines in order to get a full understanding of current events?

With such high tensions, it seems more important than ever to stay well-informed. Such a task, however, remains extremely difficult when there are so many interests fighting to be heard.

Still, if you try to decipher some of the headlines using the theories that surround agenda-setting and issue framing, more informed conclusions can be made.

Get your news from various sources, even if you don’t agree with them!

This way you can create comparisons, and see what facts and topics are repeated. If two media outlets from opposing sides reference the same source, then you can probably put greater weight on it. If they offer very different interpretations of the same information, then you probably have to imagine a reality somewhere in the middle.

Reading different sources about the same issue or event also helps you understand what each side values most. In the future, you can use that to evaluate what information they are including — or leaving out — and why. In the grand scheme of things, identifying the media’s motivations will help you to avoid being fooled by details that are purposely mentioned or excluded. 

Pay attention to word choice.

For example, is the source calling it a "Muslim ban," "immigration ban," "travel ban," or simply an "executive order"?

The buzzwords chosen by a source can help you identify their goals right away. You can always use this trick to avoid articles that will rub you the wrong way, but it can be helpful to recognize how those same choices are drawing you to the titles that you’re more comfortable reading. 

Self-awareness is always a good thing!

Watch the timeline of events.

One of the best ways to do this is with Google News, believe it or not. They have advanced search settings where you can search for titles published on certain dates. Doing this will show you how the same source changed its headlines as more and more information was released, and maybe even make you more suspicious of the conclusions that big-name media make within the first 24-hour cycle.  

Beware of images and videos.  

Images are used to create an emotional choice. Just like those buzzwords, writers choose pictures that will draw your attention and bring up feelings that coincide with their message.

Even pictures can be interpreted differently. 

Realize that without quotes from political elites, media will not be able to make successful counterclaims. 

Journalists need quotes. They need people with power to make statements so that others can make arguments for or against subjects. If Congress isn’t speaking up about the administration — and vice versa, if they are only speaking against it — the media has a narrow angle to start with. 

Realize that the media takes cues from the public, as well as the elites.

But there is something you can do ... call your local representatives and let your opinion be known. If constituents are being vocal about a subject, then their congressmen/women will have to make a statement themselves. 

In the end, everyone should be trying to stay educated and informed in this political climate. It’s your duty as a citizen, and it’s the best way to promote positive change.  

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Images/GIFs: 1, 2, 3