For most of my life growing up, we would get the mail every other day. That meant we’d get two newspapers — it was the Elko Daily Free Press — on each mail day. One was a day late, the other two days late.
But my dad would read them both front to back. I usually would, too. Often, he would read them first and give me his suggestions for the best articles, usually a column from the opinion page.
Reading newspapers for most of my life and then working as a journalist for nearly two decades, newspapers have always just made sense to me.
There’s the news section where you can find hard news and feature stories, then there’s the opinion section where you find letters to the editor as well as columns and other pieces of opinion.
Advertisements are paid-for content. Newsrooms make a point of keeping these two things separate.
And when you’re looking at a newspaper, all of these things make sense. Where it gets tricky is when it’s moved online. Trickier still, most people don’t even go to the news site itself, rather they click links they find elsewhere, usually on social media.
That has led to a lot of blurred lines in trying to distinguish news from opinion from advertising and fact from complete fiction.
It’s in this new reality I’m preparing for the journalism class I’m teaching for Western Nevada College’s Jump Start class at Dayton High School.
More than anything, I want to impress upon the students the importance of a free press — it’s critical to the success of democracy — and how they can be better-informed consumers of information.
It can be a daunting task. I asked a student last year to cite the source of a news article. The reply: Snapchat. There’s work to be done.
I asked some of my friends and colleagues their advice in how to distinguish real news from fictitious stories and how to be more media savvy overall. I thought I’d share some of their responses with you (although this is probably not the target audience as you are already reading a newspaper column).
One main piece of advice is to read more than one source. If several outlets are reporting the same story, chances are it’s true. Legitimate sites don’t use headlines like, “You’ll never believe what this mother saw …” or similar language.
If you’re not sure of the source, go to the website. There should be a staff box. Real news sites don’t try to stay anonymous.
Fact checker websites can help you verify if something seems fishy. Allsides.com will list stories and tell you where they fall on the left to right continuum.
My favorite bit of advice: Read stories you disagree with. It feels good to read things that confirm what we already believe. It makes us feel right. But it can be limiting. Stretch your capacity to understand the issues, try to see them from all sides.
The more we know of what’s happening in our world, the better informed decisions we will make. And the better decisions we make, the better our democracy — which is the whole point of the press.
Teri Vance is a journalist, freelance writer and native Nevadan. Contact her with column ideas at email@example.com.