How can I be a more savvy consumer of breaking news?

Data Literacy

A: Follow the Breaking News Checklist from The News Literacy Project!

TL:DR; The checklist includes- minding the (information) gap, being aware of bad actors (spreaders of misinfo), checking out credible news sources (outside of social media), looking for corroborating evidence, and practicing patience as news gets corrected.

When breaking news hits, we all want to know the deets ASAP! In these situations it takes extra self-discipline to be smart consumers of news information (for us too!). Luckily, The News Literacy Project has developed a super helpful checklist that can remind us to pause, take a breath, and not fall into the traps the breaking news cycle often lays for us!

Their checklist (see infographic below) includes:

*Mind the (information) gap*. It takes time for well-vetted and verified information to emerge when breaking news hits. This produces a “data void” in which there isn’t enough high-quality information to counter misleading information on a topic at first. We just posted on this phenomenon recently if you want to read more. Being aware of this can help us wait a minute to allow more reliable content to get published before trusting and sharing breaking news information.

*Be aware of bad actors*. People wishing to spread misinformation capitalize on these initial periods when “data voids” are present, hoping you will be attracted to outrageous headlines and hot takes and give them “likes” and “shares”. Pause before you like or share and don’t help these people spread misinformation! For a helpful post by a Nerdy Girl alum on how to spot misinformation, see here.

*Search for information from credible news sources*. Searching smart can help you discern fact from fiction. Don’t rely only on what friends and family are saying on social media and seek out information from credible news sources. We shared tips for identifying credible news sources from the News Literacy Project a while back, see our past post here. We also shared tips from MediaWise for savvy web-searching (like including the keyword “fact-check”) recently, check them out here.

*Check for corroborating evidence*. Is one news source, or social media site making a bold claim that no one else seems to agree with? It makes sense to wait and see what emerges as the consensus among trusted news sources when breaking news hits. One of our Nerdy Girl founding members reminded us early on in the pandemic of the wise words by Carl Sagan “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence!” and it still stands (see a classic post on determining if a news story is solid or sensational by her here.

*Practice patience*. In times of breaking news, early reports can get corrected as new information or evidence becomes available. We all want to be on top of the latest news, but waiting a beat to give journalists a chance to verify their sources and get their ducks in a row can really pay off. For guidance on what the hallmarks of high-quality reporting are, see another classic post by our Nerdy Girl alum here. Once you share something, it can be hard to un-share, so better to wait.

Breaking news need not break you – stick to the checklist!

For more on the checklist from The News Literacy Project, see here.

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