Glossary: The Language of News Literacy

Accountability

Taking direct responsibility, by name, for the truthfulness and the reliability of the report. Examples include bylines in print and digital journalism and signoffs in audio and video reports.

Advertising

Attracting attention by paying to have announcements placed on billboards, in newspapers and broadcasts or on websites.

Balance

Equality between the totals of the two (or more) sides of the account. Balance is a more technical term than fairness. It's a quantitative measurement that can be used as a tool to achieve fairness, especially in cases where the facts are in dispute or the truth is still developing.

Bias

A predisposition that distorts your ability to fairly weigh the evidence and prevents you from reaching a fair or accurate judgment. Here's how to spot bias:

  • Look for evidence of a pattern of unfairness over time
  • Compare a variety of news outlets, especially to search for bias by omission
  • Take note of the self-interest of those alleging bias

Media Bias is a pattern of unfairness or willful inaccuracy over time by a specific journalist or news outlet. It cannot be proven by a single isolated incident. Audience Bias is a News Literacy term describing the tendency of individuals to see bias in news media reports because they are unconsciously viewing journalism through their own biases. A key element of Audience Bias is Cognitive Dissonance, which occurs when individuals discount the value or veracity of a report that conflicts with their preconceived beliefs.

Cognitive Dissonance

A psychological theory that holds people are so powerfully motivated to reduce their discomfort that they will dismiss, block or warp incoming information that does not conform with their beliefs, viewpoint or understanding of the truth. It can result in:

  • Selective Distortion and Retention — Remembering only those elements of a news report that affirm the individual’s beliefs, or only “hearing” or “seeing” elements of a report that affirm existing beliefs.
  • Confirmation Bias — Seeking out information to confirm what we already believe.
  • Source Misattribution — Attributing dubious information to a more credible source.

Confirmation Bias

Pursuing information that reassures or reflects a person’s particular point of view.

Context

Background or ancillary information that is necessary to understand the scope, impact, magnitude or meaning of new facts reported as news ... the circumstances that form the setting for an event or statement ... ideas or facts that give greater meaning to a news report so that it can be fully understood and assessed.

Direct Evidence

Anything that was captured firsthand or on the scene (i.e. video, recordings, photographs, documents, records, eyewitness accounts). Direct Evidence, which gives us a direct line to the story is better than Indirect Evidence, which is a step or two removed from the events.

Entertainment

Something affording pleasure, diversion or amusement.

Fair Comment

Protects your right to criticize and comment on matters of public interest without being liable for defamation, provided that the comment is an honest expression of opinion and free of malice: the intent to cause harm without legal justification or excuse.

Fairness

Marked by impartiality and honesty. Free from self-interest, prejudice or favoritism. In controversial matters, fairness demands a courageous weighing of evidence to assure the report is fair to the facts. Fairness may require balance, but reports about known facts (the millions gassed by the Nazis, the accelerating changes in earth’s climate) are unfair to the facts if they create false equivalencies by assuring an equity between multiple stakeholders.

Fourth Estate

An old European phrase used to describe the press and its role as a watchdog. Originally, it referred to unofficial powers like Queen consorts or powerful lawyers, as distinct from the Church, Parliament and People. In America, the four estates of power are the three branches of government and the citizens to counterbalance them.

Hostile Media Effect

A belief among partisans that news reports are painting them in the worst possible light. People who are deeply involved in one side of an issue are quicker to spot and remember aspects of a news story that are negative. The best informed partisans are the most likely to see bias.

Independence

Freedom from the control, influence or support of interested parties. Journalists are expected to avoid reporting on matters in which they may have a financial stake, personal/familial ties, or intellectual prejudice by virtue of declarations of allegiance. Leading newsrooms adopt the standard found in the judicial canon of ethics: The appearance of a conflict of interest is as damaging to public trust as an actual conflict, and must be addressed transparently. Similarly, journalists are expected to be transparent about the potential conflicts of interest of sources used in their reports.

Indirect Evidence

Secondhand or recreated information (i.e. accounts from official spokesmen, expert reconstructions, hearsay testimony, computer models).

Information Neighborhoods

News Literacy students are taught a taxonomy that allows them to quickly navigate information neighborhood: News, Entertainment, Advertising, Promotion, Propaganda and Raw Information. The News or Journalism neighborhood is the only one with all three of the VIA characteristics -- Verification, Independence and Accountability.

Journalist

A journalist’s primary mission is to inform the public while employing journalistic methods such as verification to uphold journalistic values in order to maintain independence and accountability.

Journalistic Truth

The best obtainable version of the truth on any given day.

News

Timely information of some public interest that is shared and subject to a journalistic process of verification and for which an independent individual or organization is directly accountable.

News Driver

What makes information newsworthy.

The 10 Universal News Drivers

  • Importance: When the information has serious implications
  • Prominence: When the story is news because of who is involved.
  • Human Interest: A unique or universal experience exploring the human condition
  • Conflict: Clashes of people, institutions or ideas
  • Change: Progress, setbacks -- accounts of changes that will affect the audience
  • Proximity: Local events whose proximity to the audience increases their news value
  • Timeliness: Anniversaries, holidays or deadlines – the calendar is the crucial context of the story
  • Magnitude: Stories driven by numbers, very large or unusually small
  • Relevance: How wide is the story’s impact and audience?
  • Unusualness: Alerts and diverts – something strange that doesn’t usually happen every day.

News Literacy

The ability to use critical thinking skills to judge the reliability and credibility of news reports, whether they come via print, television or the Internet.

No Prior Restraint

The government and courts cannot stop something from being published, broadcast or posted on the Internet, except in rare instances. But, the publisher can face consequences later.

Peer Influence

When personal perceptions of things like size or distance are impaired by group pressure.

Privilege

Protects your right to publish court testimony, police reports or other public documents, even if they contain falsehoods. This is because the public has the privilege to review the contents of government files as a means of ensuring police, courts and other agencies are conducting themselves correctly. Since most people work, the press is a mechanism for reading those government files.

Propaganda

Information, ideas or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution or nation. It is often biased and misleading, in order to promote an ideology or point of view.

Power of Images

Photos and video are powerful verification tools, providing direct evidence. News Literacy students learn to interrogate images critically, paying attention to how simple cropping and complex digital effects can alter the meaning of an image. Similarly, News Literacy students learn to analyze editing techniques, the introduction of sound and script choices before relying on evidence from video and photos.

Publicity

The process of securing public notice with information designed to enhance the image of a person or product.

Raw Information

Information that has yet to be examined or verified. It is unfiltered information that bypasses traditional gatekeepers and mediators.

Reliable Information

Allows the news consumer to make a decision, take action or share responsibly with others. It has all three of these characteristics: Verification, Independence and Accountability.

Scientific Truth

A statement of probability proportional to the evidence, which will change over time, as further research changes our understanding daily of everything from the size of the largest dinosaur to the nature of the former planet Pluto.

Selective Dissonance

The process of distorting or “forgetting” incoming information if it does not match a person’s particular point of view.

Source Evaluation / IMVAIN

The bedrock method of deconstruction: Each source in a news report is evaluated using the “IMVAIN” rubric:

  • Independent sources are preferable to self-interested sources.
  • Multiple sources are preferable to a report based on a single source.
  • Sources who Verify or provide verifiable information are preferable to those who merely assert.
  • Authoritative and/or Informed sources are preferable to sources who are uninformed or lack authoritative background.
  • Named sources are better than anonymous ones.

Source Misattribution

The process of misattributing comforting information to a more respectable source.

Transparency

When reporters share how they know what they know, what they don’t know and why.

Truth

Events as they actually happened, phenomena as they actually exist, the universe as it actually exists, independent of what we have so far been able to learn of it. The term stands in contrast to Scientific Truth and Journalistic Truth, which describe human approaches to learning truth.

Verification

The investigative process by which a news organization gathers, assesses, confirms and weighs evidence in service to the search for truth.

Disciplines of Verification

  • Gather, assess and weigh evidence
  • Place facts in the big picture (context)
  • Be fair when appropriate, adjust balance
  • Maintain transparency

VIA

Acronym used in the course to stand for Verification, Independence, and Accountability. Reliable information has all three of these characteristics.