Most people read the news the same way they read a fiction book – they read it, remember it, and then put it away, no questions asked. But what if there was a better way to read the news?
Fortunately, there is. Not only will you read the news better, you’ll truly be the smartest person in the room - you’ll understand what you’re reading and be able to convey that knowledge to others. And the best part? This better way of reading is something you probably already know how to do. In fact, it’s probably something you’ve been doing since grade school. The answer? Critical thinking.
Critical thinking is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.” It’s easy to fall into the trap of blindly trusting whatever news source you’re reading from. However, unfortunately, most news outlets have some sort of inherent bias. Thus, the news you get from those outlets is framed in a way that encourages you to hold a certain opinion. That means there’s a little more work that needs to go into reading your daily news, and this is where your objective analysis and evaluation step in.
Objective analysis allows you to see past your opinions and just look at the cold, hard facts. Though thoughts and opinions make situations more exciting, the facts don’t lie! If you can nail down the legitimate information, you can best inform yourself of the situation at hand.
Here at 1440, we scour 100+ sources so you don't have to - but we still encourage you to do your own fact-checking.
One of the best ways to incorporate critical thinking into your news reading is by forming a routine of questions you ask yourself as you’re reading headlines and articles. While it may take some time to adjust, as you get used to doing it, it’ll feel like second nature. Plus, you’ll be retaining a lot more quality knowledge - it’s a win-win situation!
Of course, the questions you ask can be individual to yourself. The ones listed here are merely guidelines to get you started out on the right foot. Also, every question may not apply to every article. Feel free to pick and choose! Here are 10 questions to ask yourself while you’re reading the news.
What source am I reading right now?
Social media sites have quickly become many people’s number one resource for news. While it’s exciting that news can have such an instantaneous reach, it has also opened up the door for extremely misleading headlines and falsified news articles. People see these headlines and form an opinion extremely quickly, then share them without thinking further.
This wouldn’t be an issue if every news outlet could be trusted, but unfortunately, that is a near impossible scenario. Therefore, it’s better to be on the safe side and check the source the article is from. If it’s a personal blog, you’re probably reading someone’s opinion and not factual information. Even if the news outlet has an inherent bias, one that has been in business for years upon years is more trustworthy than one created specifically to put out one fake article. Make sure you recognize the name of the news source, and move forward from there!
How does the author frame the situation and describe the people involved?
Have you ever noticed the differences between the way you describe someone you’ve known for years versus someone you haven’t known for very long? What about the differences between the way you describe someone you like versus someone you dislike? News articles can operate very similarly.
Let’s assume you’re reading an account of a crime that took place. Look at the words they use to describe the perpetrator and compare them to the ones they use to describe the victim. Oftentimes, the victim will have more positive adjectives linked to their name; it’s common to emphasize the positive qualities of the victim and the negative attributes of the perpetrator. It makes sense as to why - you want people to understand who’s truly guilty - but it’s not always so cut and dry.
Sometimes, when describing certain situations or people, news outlets will sneak adjectives into their writing that subconsciously influence your opinion of that person. When this occurs in relation to a political candidate or other public figure, it can really make a huge difference in your opinion of that person, which can sometimes be misleading. Read closely! You may be surprised what you find.
What kind of article am I reading, and how much of it is factual?
One of the sneakiest parts of online news is that different categories of articles are often only distinguished by fine print. For example, you’d have to look pretty closely to see that you’re reading an intentionally biased piece - and this happens more often than you may think!
Typically, you’ll see three main types of articles on a news site: news reports, feature articles, and editorials or opinion pieces. For brief yet thorough explanations of the differences between each type of article, check out this page by BBC. (If you’re reading back through this blog after reading to check where our links direct to: this one happened to support what we’re trying to say.;) )
In short, the three can be broken down as follows. News reports provide factual information, typically with firsthand accounts, of a situation that occurred. Feature articles often contain factual information, but in a way that illuminates an area of life or society that may be overlooked. Opinion pieces sometimes contain factual information, but usually are more of an entertainment-type read in that they’re so intentionally biased. In a printed newspaper, it’s quite easy to tell which articles are which type because of their location. However, on the Internet, particularly on mobile devices, there isn’t a ton of room to display all of the information about the article; thus, the “most important” things are put in bigger text, whereas the equally important things - such as the type of article - are often in fine print out of the initial path of sight.
This tiny text is easy to overlook, but it can completely change the way you view the article. Opinion pieces are valuable, but they’re probably not going to give the full story; it’ll be the parts of the story that support their own opinions. While opinion pieces can be a great place to start, you’re probably going to want to look elsewhere for the factual information. However, if the article is a legitimate account, proceed with questioning.
When was this article published?
Another unfortunate reality that comes with online news is that old articles tend to resurface when they’re convenient. Often, people will find old articles supporting their views, and start to spread them in order to confirm their beliefs. This is dangerous, because most people won’t read past the headline.
Always make sure to check the date of publication on the article you’re reading. It may just be a convenient story from a few years back - don’t let that trip you up!
What sources are referenced in this article?
The sources referenced in an article are nearly as important as the article. Sometimes, the links are directed to articles the author just found that confirm their opinions; however, the sources can often be really telling as to whether or not the article has a hidden agenda. Though this requires a bit of extra digging, it’s massively worth it to make sure you’re getting your information from reputable outlets.
Does this article provide the full picture?
Depending on what type of article you’re looking at, take a look at what percentage of that information is actually factual. Once you’ve established the facts, it’s time to go one step further. How much information do you really have about whatever occurred? Do you have the full story, or do you only have facts that support one perspective of the event? We may say that “facts don’t lie,” but facts can aid in lying by omission or lack or context. Whether intentional or not, it’s important to recognize both the percentage of factuality as well as the possibility of misrepresentation of the actual event.
It’s important to note that these critical thinking questions are just a head start. We encourage you to add to the list as you see fit, and get into the habit of asking questions every time you consume news-related content. It may lead to new discoveries about motives behind everything you read. Of course, you could spiral about that for days...not that we’re speaking from experience or anything. Regardless, it’s important to be confident in where you’re getting your news.
That’s why, instead of cleverly crafted messaging and media narratives, 1440 provides an impartial view of what’s happening in the world so our readers can form their own conclusions. We scour hundreds of sources each day, delivering news in a single morning email with breadth plus depth. We believe news is not about proving one side is right – it should inspire objective conversation that helps you navigate the world around you. So, armed with your critical thinking questions and your common sense, go forth and question your news. Feel free to read and question our news, too! Visit join1440.com to start receiving our daily digest and get on your way to becoming the smartest person in the room.