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SIFT method helps determine news reliability

Arts Faculty Apr 1, 2020
Portrait of a man in a suit
Portrait of a man in a suit

KOKOMO, Ind. – Choosing reliable news sources is a lot like dieting— the key is to balance between high-quality and junk outlets.

Paul Cook, associate professor of English at Indiana University Kokomo, said it’s especially crucial now, as people look for truthful information about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“I think balance is what you want to go for,” he said. “Like with food, it’s OK to have some junk every now and then, but also read good journalism. In addition to finding out the stuff that is clearly wrong, people need to be filling themselves with good nutritional sources.”

To combat misinformation, and know information being read is accurate, he suggests using the S.I.F.T. method — Stop. Investigate the source. Find better coverage. Trace back to origins. 

The first step is to stop and think before believing or sharing a story.

“When you find something on social media that makes you suspicious, that raises a red flag, that seems to be too good to be true, or that provokes a strong emotional response in you, stop and consider the source,” Cook said. “Take a moment, take a deep breath, and put on your thinking cap.”

Next, investigate the source, to see what media outlet is reporting the story. An easy way is to go to its web address, or URL, delete everything after the dot com, and plug the name into Wikipedia. He said nearly every English language publication or media website has a Wikipedia site, which will summarize it. For example, it might say that it is a major U.S. media outlet that leans conservative, or that it’s a widely-known satirical website.

This information helps readers understand the outlet’s viewpoint, and weed out fake sources.

Finding better coverage means to look for other outlets reporting the same news. Take a few key words from the story and look them up in Google, to see if there are other stories — or stories debunking what has been read.

“If it’s a big story, something on the national level, it’s going to be reported in the major outlets,” he said. For example, there was outrage over an article stating that hospitals were going to start denying ventilators to people 65 and older.

“It caused a lot of panic, heartache, and anger,” Cook said. “When something like that pops up, if folks had taken some of the keywords and plugged them into Google, they would have found that information wasn’t being reported by any major media outlets, like the Indianapolis Star. They also would have found articles stating that was a hoax.”

Finally, he advises tracing a story back to its source.

“Sometimes outlets will report true information, but they frame it in a way that’s misleading,” Cook said, adding this is most likely with fringe publications. “It’s about trading up for better coverage. You always want to find the original story, because it will give you a more complex context for what you are reading.”

For unfiltered information about the coronavirus, he said the Centers for Disease Control website is a good place to start. He also recommended National Public Radio (NPR) for radio, podcasts, and a website.

“Their reporting is national in scope, which is important at a time like this,” he said. “When you have essentially a global phenomenon taking place, a national perspective is helpful.”

He said the Associated Press, a news organization that provides up-to-date information to newspapers worldwide, also is considered to be somewhere in the middle between liberal and conservative.

Cook said it’s important for readers to recognize their own political views, but also to read information that leans the other direction, for a healthy media diet.

Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.

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