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  • An analysis of media alignment

    There have been a few attempts to make a directory of fake news sites to guide social media users away from reading and sharing misinformation.

    Some are great1, some are good1, some are okay2 and some are downright abysmal3. Most have been subject to criticism from both sides of the political aisle.

    So I still felt pretty unsatisfied. We could go so much deeper.

    I’ve taken a stab at compiling a data of news websites – both real and fake – that I will maintain and update in response to new information and feedback.

    This directory not only tracks which publications are fake, but which are trustworthy, those that are merely partisan (or hyperpartisan) and those that are legitimate information sources regardless of their leanings.

    It’s an attempt to categorize purported information sources in a more descriptive, fair and accurate way without necessarily demonizing outlets that focus more on opinion or political agendas.

    Methodology

    I compiled data from the excellent Media Bias Fact Check project, a non-profit dedicated to scoping out the political leanings and veracity of news organizations, blogs and other online information hubs.

    Judging how liberal or conservative a media source is can often be super subjective, completely dependent upon one’s personal sensibilities, but MBFC does a really good job, so this was my starting point.

    From there I built out a database and assigned my own broader ratings based heavily on the MBFC ratings, while also adding another layer of depth by parsing out the partisan from the hyperpartisan. I also attempted to classify sources and publications by whether they were part of what’s nebulously termed “the mainstream media” (even though this is subjective and a misnomer4).

    Definitions

    It’s always helpful to define some terms.

    First, the political leanings:

    Centrist: can be liberal or conservative, often wavering between the two situationally, but overall tries to stand in the middle ground.

    Lean: Most often takes stances or reports stories that could be viewed as left/right of center, but still strives to be fair.

    Partisan: representing the left or right is part of its identity. It owns being on one side, with either liberals or conservatives being their core audience. Can still be fair and self-critical.

    Hyperpartisan: completely died-in-the-wool leftwing or rightwing, sometimes fringe, often unreasonable, never really critical of its own side but extremely hostile towards its perceived opposition. Not necessarily always wrong, can make valid points and share reasonable opinions, but rarely in a balanced way.

    Next, the information types:

    Reliable: generally tries to responsibly report the facts as they know them, applying at least some level of editorial rigor to its content.

    Mixed: a mix of sensationalism, cursory reporting and unverified information occassionally interrupted by good, original stories.

    Unreliable: generally untrustworthy, doesn’t try very hard to verify information, low editorial rigor, deals mostly in gossip, rumors, unsupported opinion and shoddy reporting.

    Satire: those that pretend to be information sources for the sake of humor, parody and entertainment, not trying to be taken seriously or deceive.

    Hoax: those that pretend to be information sources while actively attempting to deceive its audience with false reports.

    Conspiracy: utter, contemputuous garbage, often mixing pseudoscience and outright untruths with wild speculation to generate some of the darkest, most unbelievable lies.

    Conclusions

    So what should you read?

    Anything you like.

    The problem isn’t that there’s a huge variety of different kinds of news sources. That can be an asset if harnessed properly.

    The problem is a crippling lack of media literacy in the general population and the widening partisan cultural divide between right and left. The problem is people on the right or left believing their favorite information source is the only arbiter of truth and facts simply because it generally agrees with them.

    The problem is noise, yes, but also a general inability for people to cut through it to find the signal.

    So read anything you like. I would only implore you to know what it is, where it’s coming from, what kind of information it’s sharing – and not sharing – and what other sources are saying too.

    What you like, what you believe and what you share with others is up to you. Just don’t claim that solid, trustworthy news reporting is being withheld from you or is hard to find. Unless you live in a totalitarian regime, it’s not.

    Despite the constant ragging on the media landscape, there’s probably better, deeper investigative journalism reaching a larger audience today than there’s ever been. It’s just a matter of sifting through the mountains of garbage to find it.

    My advice would be to read things from across these categories. The super basic 24-hour news grind can keep you apprised of the latest, reading newspapers can scrape at the layers beneath that story, partisan opinion sites can lend voice to each side of an issue and even the hyperpartisan hatchet jobs can lend insight into how the fringes are thinking.

    If you need to rely on your Facebook and Twitter feeds, go for it, just simply Like or Follow a huge variety of different news sources and the information will come to you. After that, you just need to read what trickles into your stream.

    All that said, this guide isn’t perfect, this I know. It’s not meant to be perfect, as I’m not sure that’s an attainable goal. People will poke at it, and I gladly welcome constructive criticism. But I hope this attempt at a media guide can at least generate some good discussion and add even the slightest bit of clarity to an increasingly controversial subject.

    Update August 8, 2017: Buzzfeed News also has a great analysis of this subject.

    1. Media Bias Fact Check Link  2

    2. Kiely, Eugene and Robertson, Lori. “How to spot fake news” FactCheck.org. November 18, 2016 Link 

    3. Couts, Andrew. “Here are all the ‘fake news’ sites to watch out for on Facebook” DailyDot. November 16, 2016 Link 

    4. Fake News Watch Link 

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Datamancy is the work of Frey Hargarten, a data journalist and artist.

Don't take my word for anything -- do lots of research instead. My work here is offered under the Creative Commons license.

Opinions are mine and don't reflect the stances of my employer.

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