With the advent of on-line social media, articles compete for our click. The desire for ad revenue garnered by the views, hits, and clicks upon the article and its corresponding advertisements dictates the content. Much of what passes as journalism is simply an enticement for your click rather than your mind. Headlines scream for your attention. Questions beg your consideration, but only long enough to acquire the requisite click.
Upon clicking you may find a list, a series of pictures, a short video, or what barely passes for a short article. These get liked, tagged, shared, and tweeted ad nauseam. Seldom do the articles get judged, much less researched. In an effort to promote journalistic integrity, I’ve provided a list of ways to judge an article before liking, sharing, or tweeting. For the purposes of this article, I am limiting the subject to news articles rather than those deemed entertainment.
- Read the entire article. If its contents are valuable enough to like or share, they were first worth reading.
- Don’t get fooled by headlines. Did the article live up to its headline? Many times the headlines are dishonest eye catching advertisements. If we are not careful, we will believe the headline regardless of the contents of the article and share it on the merit of the headline alone. If the headline reads Science Proves Cats Love Swimming and the article is of a story of one cat owned by one scientist who likes to swim in the pool it did not pass this test. Most articles can be disregarded by this one test.
- Did the article prove its thesis? A thesis is the main point the article is designed to convey. Is the author telling you what to believe about a social issue, or is the author providing plenty of supporting details so that you have all the information necessary to decide if his opinion is merited? Just because you already agree with the premise does not mean that the writer provided sufficient supporting evidence.
- Check the sources. Consider the number of sources. Is the entire article based off of a single two or three sentence quote pulled from an hour speech or a twenty minute interview? Is that short quote being used to discredit the speaker? Is an entire book being discredited because of two or three small passages without any context? If the topic is of importance to you, listen to the whole speech, watch the interview, or read the book. Don’t share hearsay and gossip.
- Consider the point of view of the sources. If the article is about a student who had her lunch money stolen by the school nurse, and the only person interviewed is the mother of the student, then this article does not pass muster. The article should cite a police report, a quote from the school principal, and indicate whether the nurse was available for comment. The article most certainly shouldn’t bear a headline warning people of the dangers of school nurses. When we turn an isolated incident into a national emergency we cry wolf. There was a day when the boy who cried wolf lost all credibility, now everyone believes the boy because he labeled it “news” and said it on-line! G.K. Chesterton rightly quips that truth is a half hour behind the fiction and seldom catches up.
- Is it true? Most importantly is the article in its entirety true? Do all the points come together in a way that makes sense? Is there something that just does not feel right about it? Consider its truthfulness carefully before sharing. Research its points. Read two or three other articles on the topic if it doesn’t feel right. Just because you can find other articles via Google saying the same thing does not make it true. Often a story is copied from one news agency to the next without any independent investigation. Christian news sources are notorious for this.
- Is it worth it? Does it merit someone else reading it? Does it have value in such a way that people need to think about it? Even articles with true facts can carry a negative and unhelpful perspective. Is the author’s perspective healthy? Judge it before you share it. Think before you comment.
- Is it truth? This is different than is it true. An article can have a proper outline of facts, but a faulty conclusion. It can have a religious spirit or a shallow point of view. It can be poisonous or destructive regardless of its accurate facts.
- Use your voice responsibly. You don’t have to hit “like” on everything you like. You don’t have to share everything you read. You don’t have to comment on everything you read or disagree with. The people who seldom share things are the people I make the most effort to read what they share. The people who share things that have value and substance of content are also those for which I take the time to view what they post. I don’t ignore opinions I disagree with, but I do look for them to be articulated in a meaningful way.
- Leave it alone. If it fails the test, and most will, just leave it alone. If you notice most articles from a particular website fail the test, there is not much use getting your information from that source. On rare occasions, a comment is appropriate. But most of the time, keep scrolling.
There are more methods I use in judging what I read or listen to. But the above are a few of the good ones. When in doubt trust the Holy Spirit first and foremost. He will always lead you in the way of truth. Use wisdom. Share, like, and Tweet responsibly.
Do you have criteria I missed? Feel free to share in the comments.