This blogger was a kid once, and growing up, he always assumed if something was in print, it must be true. Well, guess what? Especially in these days of polarized political discourse – and the far more perilous notion that this behavior is “the new normal” – extracting the truth from today’s media reports is an exercise akin to a veggie-averse kid assiduously picking the peas out of his Mom’s beef stew.

Consuming media today requires filters, and it’s the intelligent consumer who learns to question a media report before and after he or she reads or sees it. For marketers, it’s also about making sure the reader or viewer knows the source of a media report and how bias most likely influenced its message. 

Of course, some bias is inevitable, starting with the words we choose (e.g., “entered the room” vs. “stormed into the room”). Minneapolis/St. Paul broadcasting legend Dave Moore once admitted his station biased every 10:00 newscast simply by deciding which stories they were going to cover and which they weren’t. 

So, what’s a consumer of media to do? 

The Aurora, IL-based 21st Century Information Fluency Project (21CIF) researches and develops training in online information literacy – to help educators, students, trainers and employees improve their ability to locate, evaluate and use digital information. The organization suggests keeping these questions in mind when consuming media online. This blogger sees value in considering these questions regardless of the medium in which the information appears. 

  1.     What facts has the author omitted?
  2.     What additional information is necessary?
  3.     What words create positive or negative impressions?
  4.     What impression would I have if different words had been used?

How biased is a particular news article? 21CIF offers these red flags: 

  1.     The language of the document is often extreme; statements have all or nothing connotations.
  2.     The argument appeals more to the emotions than to logic.
  3.     Things are worded with the intent to oversimplify or over-generalize.
  4.     The author wishes to present a limited view of the topic.

There’s so much bias and unsubstantiated information in today’s news there are numerous websites dedicated to exposing it. Perhaps the most popular is www.snopes.com, which has flourished as a site that investigates and debunks – or not – “urban legends, hoaxes, and folklore.” Others, like www.mediabiasfactcheck.com are more politically focused. 

But regardless of where you get your media, remember that the objective of biased information is to change your mind about an issue or influence how you think about it. Combine bias, social proof and other forms of persuasion, and today’s media consumers face a constant onslaught of information designed to influence them. The intelligent among them will know how to apply a critical eye to what they read and see and separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. (Perhaps they should help their kids do the same.)