Directions: The discussion prompts below encourage students to think about where they get their news and how they evaluate the trustworthiness of a news story. After opening with the general discussion prompts, ask your students to evaluate how various characteristics of a news story (whether a text article, video or audio report) can offer clues to its quality. This discussion pairs well with the activity News You Can Trust?
General discussion prompts
1. Where do you get your general news? What about news about science? Why do you go to these sources?
2. What types of news do you often share with others? How do you share news?
3. Do you evaluate whether information is trustworthy before sharing it with others? Why or why not?
4. If you do evaluate the quality of information, what clues do you use to assess trustworthiness?
Clues to quality
1. How can information about the author offer clues to the truth of a news story?
Students should consider whether the author is an expert or not, has an agenda or not, is independent or an advocate and so on. Opinions that the author has shared elsewhere can inform where that author is coming from.
2. What might you want to know about the publisher of the story (that is, the magazine or website where the story appears)?
Is the organization journalistic or is it an advocacy organization? What is the organization’s reputation? What other kind of material do they publish? And so on.
3. Why is the date of the article important?
An old date or no date could indicate that the information is outdated, especially in science where new data are coming in.
4. What clues to trustworthiness can you find in the way the author structures and connects information?
If students don’t have any initial ideas, ask them to think about the logical flow of the argument, whether there is consistency across the story and whether key claims are supported. Encourage students to think about unanswered questions. What is left out of a story can sometimes matter as much as what is put in.
5. Can you find any clues to trustworthiness in the tone and style of writing?
A formal versus conversational tone is not always a clue to trustworthiness, but language that is overhyped, unnecessarily vague or ignores nuance could be a red flag.
6. Are there clues to trustworthiness in the sources cited?
Students should consider whether the news story relies on primary sources and whether the author seeks out multiple sources of expertise.
7. How does existing knowledge shape your perception of a story’s accuracy? What about information you read elsewhere on the same topic?
Remind students that just because a story challenges existing knowledge does not mean it is false. And just because information is repeated in multiple places doesn’t mean it is true; many stories may all be relying on the same incorrect source. Still, our own knowledge — if we are aware of its limits and our own biases — can be a good tool for evaluating new knowledge.
8. How might clues to trustworthiness vary depending on the form of media — a text article, video or audio report, for example, or even a tweet? What additional factors might you consider depending on the type of media?
Students might mention that a text article can easily link to primary sources, whereas that is harder in audio or video reports. For video reports, students might pay attention to how images are used to convey ideas (is it generic art, illustrations, photographs from the scene?). And sound effects might be an important consideration in audio reports. Tweets by their very nature are short and contain less detail but might link to original sources.