News Experts, News Literacy, and News Diets

Librarian for Political Science/Government Information/Communication Studies/Cinema & Media Arts

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Frank Lester

Librarian for History

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Jason Schultz
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How to Choose Your News

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Why "News Experts"?

The first news expert is ..... you. You start with the ability, motivation, and skills to find out for yourself what news is, whether it's factual or not, and whether you believe it to be accurate.

When you need help with finding news, news resources, corroborating evidence, or simply more information, your librarian is your partner in the goal of filtering information. The librarians on the side of this guide can be your first contacts, but any librarian at Vanderbilt can help you find what you're looking for or direct you to another librarian for further detailed help.

Why Does This Matter?

School defines news literacy as

the acquisition of 21st-century, critical-thinking skills for analyzing and judging the reliability of news and information, differentiating among facts, opinions and assertions in the media we consume, create and distribute

Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy points out that

The Digital Age poses four serious information literacy challenges for civil society:

  • The amount of information we are flooded with daily makes it difficult to sort out what's reliable.
  • New technologies to create and share information make it easy to create content that only appears authoritative and then to spread it virally.
  • The conflict between speed and accuracy has been exacerbated by Digital Age demands for delivering information as fast as possible, but accelerating that process increases the chance it will be wrong.
  • Humans prefer information that supports our beliefs, and the Internet and social media make it much easier for us to select only the information that supports our ideas, reinforcing rather than challenging them.

What Qualifies as News?

It's not always easy to define what news is. One way to do it is to make lists of criteria that news outlets and organizations use to decide what news they publish. A good recent list is from a research paper by Tony Harcup and Deirdre O'Neill:


Criteria for Selection of News Stories

Criterion Explanation
Exclusivity Stories generated by, or available first to, the news outlet as a result of interviews, letters, investigations, surveys, polls
Bad news Stories with particularly negative overtones such as death, injury, defeat, loss
Conflict Stories about conflict (controversies, arguments, splits, strikes, fights, insurrections, warfare)
Surprise Stories with an element of surprise, contrast and/or the unusual
Audiovisual Stories that have arresting photographs, video, audio and/or which can be illustrated with infographics
Shareability Stories likely to generate sharing and comments via Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media
Entertainment Soft stories (sex, show business, sports, lighter human interest, animals, or offering opportunities for humorous treatment/lists/etc.)
Drama Stories about unfolding drama (escapes, accidents, searches, sieges, rescues, battles, court cases)
Follow-up Stories about subjects already in the news
Power elite Stories about powerful individuals, organizations, institutions, or corporations
Relevance Stories about groups perceived to be influential with, or culturally or historically familiar to, the audience
Magnitude Stories significant enough in large numbers of people involved or in potential impact, or involving a degree of extreme behavior or occurrence
Celebrity Stories about famous or soon-to-be-famous people
Good news Stories with positive overtones (recoveries, breakthroughs, cures, wins, celebrations)
News outlet's agenda Stories that set or fit the news outlet's own agenda, whether ideological, commercial, or as part of a specific campaign


Source: Harcup, Tony, and Deirdre O’Neill. “What Is News? News Values Revisited, Again.” Journalism Studies, vol. 18, no. 12, 2016, pp. 1470–1488, doi:10.1080/1461670x.2016.1150193


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