Wishing to be critical in your views on information and how it is presented is great. But do you know where to start on this? It’s one thing to want to do something, and a completely different thing to know how to do it. Most people will start with the facts, how they are presented, and their own ability to decide on whether they are correct or not. In reality, there are several other elements they never even think of assessing. This is where we come in. We have prepared a list of factors that should weigh in your decision-making process to decide on whether an article presents real information or is looking to mislead.
6 Steps in Making Your Own Critical Article Review
1. The publication
This should come as no big news to anyone. Large press corporations will rally behind one issue or another and try to manipulate the public and to draw them over to their side. Why do they do this? Because information is a weapon, because people’s opinions are not that hard to control, and because once you have started telling people what to think, you realize how easy it is to get a lot of things done. Why do we make these arguments? Because in some cases, simply knowing the publication an article appeared in, you can already guess its direction. Whether it is pro or against a public figure, pro or against in a public debate matter.
Apart from obvious bias, there is also the issue of the sensational potential of a subject that some commercial newspapers will appreciate more than others. Therefore, a hot topic may be treated differently in an economic publication compared to a tabloid. This does not make the information true or false in one case compared to the other, but it would weigh in on its quality and relevance to you.
For example, it may interest you to know whether a political scandal has economic implications, but you would be less interested in knowing that the person who caused it is also going through a divorce. This is why the nature of the publication is important.
2. The author
Every publication is owned by a group of companies in which public figures have invested money. On one hand, if you were to judge from this point of view alone, you would never read another newspaper again, because solely knowing their affiliation you also know what they’ll say. But this does not make the author any less important. A real professional will not have any type of affiliation and you can trust his/her investigation.
What matters most when assessing the value of an author is his/her credentials and educational background, past writing and professional portfolio, personal work ethics (from what you can tell), whether or not he/she is considered an authority in any field, and whether he/she is an awarded journalist. There are many professionals who are all about making a career and building a name in the business. This means that they will make no compromise on their route to success.
3. The context
The context in which an article is written is just as important as anything else on this list. How does this influence specific dates and facts in a journalistic investigation? It tells professionals what to look for and how much their discoveries weigh in a specific situation. Knowing the context of a story means understanding which are all the parties involved, even the ones not mentioned as being directly affected by the situation. A really good author will make sure to put things into perspective as well as present the discoveries made.
You must never take your eyes off the context and the big picture. If you do, you risk getting tangled in details that ultimately do not matter. These are the details tabloids usually build their materials around and these are facts lacking in real value to any case. Far from feeding people’s need for information, they feed voyeuristic needs for details that have no bearing on the issue being discussed, but that are intimately connected to some of the people involved. Like it or not, the journalistic right to investigate is often mistaken with a false permission to pry. Taking your eyes off the context can lead to a waste of time on useless information.
4. The audience
And this is you! Of course, you are both a recipient as well as a resource for the authors. How does that work? Every publication has an intended audience. This means that their articles are meant to feed your specific interests. Economic journals will present market analysis, the situation of some of the biggest companies in each industry, business trends, and the legislative framework for the business sector. A tabloid will focus on shocking material with emotional and entertainment value. A generalist publication will have information from every field of interest: politics, economy, sports, entertainment.
Once the audience is established, each publication will establish a tone and will write according to the profile of readers. Politics and economic journal readers tend to be more critical and will check all information from various sources. Generalist newspapers are bound to have a neutral tone so as to approach both serious as well as entertaining subjects. Some audiences are more emotionally invested in the materials they read. Tabloids have purely entertainment value. Their readers want to be amused and shocked and will not check the information presented.
5. The coverage
Covering an issue when it is hot is one thing. Going back and doing an update, putting the whole thing into context again and helping readers follow up on a story is real journalism. This is the difference between an author interested in selling articles and authors interested in selling a story. The later will have a constant need for closure and will seek situations in which there is some sort of resolve. Cases that are left open are revisited, people who have not yet paid for their crimes are once again brought to public attention.
6. The facts
Putting information into an article with the mention that it is real is not good enough. A good journalist mentions sources and checks them several times before presenting them to the public. There is no going around this one.
These are only the basics you should keep in mind when analyzing a news article. Start with getting these right, then the details of each story will fall into place on their own.