How to test whether a news source is reliable

First of all, a disclaimer.  This is not a news blog about the Ordinariates, Ordinariate communities or even Anglican patrimony for that matter, though its posts may from time to time share some news or information about them.

I would like to have more news here but until I retire from my paid work, it’s unlikely going to be me providing it.  I would welcome any reputable blogger who is also an Ordinariate member who would like to take this on—and I would also welcome contributions from members of various Ordinariate communities.

The purpose of this blog is not so much to provide news  as it is to connect and engage people who are interested in the preservation of Anglican patrimony both inside and outside the Catholic Church.  It is about creating community and stimulating conversation.  It is about furthering the aims of the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society and encouraging others to join our project.

That said, I would like to share some thoughts concerning the blogosphere and how to determine the reliability of a site that purports to be sharing news, whether it’s about the Ordinariates, about Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia or anything else.

Back when I started in the field of journalism, there was still a great deal of respect paid to the notion of “objectivity,” to a journalist’s bringing an “objective” perspective to facts in a story.  There was an idea there was a truth out there to be found and journalists had a responsibility to find it, without falling prey to partisanship, or shilling for one ideology over another.

Much of that vaunted objectivity turned out to be a lot of unexamined a priori assumptions by middle class, almost invariably secularist liberals and progressives who often got into journalism because they wanted to change the world.   But nevertheless, there was lots of good training in how to be objective—or at least fair to various sides in a conflict—and how to keep your own personal opinion or ax to grind out of your writing.

Sadly, many of us look around at most mainstream media outlets, and see there is little objectivity or even fairness.  In this postmodern world, even the notion there is such a thing as “objective reality” or facts on the ground has rather gone by the wayside in favor of narratives of power and identity politics.

So much news today seems to be partisan shilling.   Consequently people go looking for their news online—and increasingly find their news sources through social media and blogs.  This is true not only for politics, but also for news regarding the Church.

In an era of fake news, and in one where everyone can start blogging, using Twitter and social media to share news, how do you discern what sources are reliable and what aren’t?

Here are a few things to consider when you are navigating the online world and sites that purport to be giving you news —in this case about the Church.

  1. Is the site anonymous or do those who write for it use their own names?
  2. Does the site have a negative tone where the writer(s) come across as angry, bitter, over-the-top and constantly critical?
  3. Does the site never give a benefit of a doubt to the figures it criticizes?
  4. Does the site allow comments and if so, what is the quality of the comments?  Do the commentators vent, or do they provide helpful insights?
  5. Does the site engage arguments and treat those arguments fairly?
  6. Does the site or blogger use ad hominem attacks?
  7. Does the site use anonymous sources that seem to present only one side in a dispute, perhaps relying on disgruntled individuals who may have a skewed version of events?
  8. In a controversy, does the site or blogger make an effort to seek the other side’s point of view?
  9. Does the site clearly distinguish between opinion and news reporting?
  10. If a site is mainly an opinion site, how accurate do you find the facts they use in their arguments?  Do they unfairly spin?

If you have any other suggestions, please add them to the comments section!