Traditional Sources: Newspapers

  1. Traditional Sources
  2. Television

Newspapers are one of the worst places to go for source information. Few newspapers research any more than their biggest features. The rest are reproduced nearly verbatim from press releases, press wires, and, believe it or not, e-mail chain letters.

Even those feature articles which are researched by reporters are tainted by the newspaper’s need for controversy. The official policy will usually mention “balance”, but the way balance works usually makes evaluation of the information difficult. “Balance” means finding the same number of experts in opposition as are in support.

For example, suppose a newspaper decides to do a feature article about standing beneath doors in earthquakes. There are about a thousand experts in the field of earthquake survival, suppose, and two of them oppose standing beneath doorways. In the name of balance, most newspaper articles will present an interview with no more than two supporting experts to ‘balance’ the only two opposing experts they could find.

Suppose, now, that no earthquake survival experts oppose standing in doorways. In the interests of balance, the newspaper reporter will find a non-expert and treat this person as an expert, in order to balance the report. They might, for example, choose a doctor at a hospital. This doctor will claim that everyone who has presented themselves at the hospital for standing in a doorway has been injured. You might think this sounds silly, but the next time you’re reading a newspaper or watching a news show in which a doctor is being interviewed for something other than their specialty, look at it in this perspective. Is the doctor basically saying that everyone who comes to the emergency room has an emergency?

Remember the questions:

Why is this being reported?

To sell newspapers. To sell airtime.

How does that affect the reporting?

It must be made more controversial. Presenting information as if there were a debate among professionals makes an article more interesting. More interesting gets more readers, listeners, or viewers.

What is the source material?

Source material is almost nonexistent. Apply the same standards to traditional reporting as to Internet information sources, and traditional reporting will almost always come up short.

Newspapers: Example

In a story about a serial killer.

Pull-out: “Did television influence your crimes?”


The full story:

“Did television influence your crimes?”

“Yes, I learned to siphon gas.”

  1. Traditional Sources
  2. Television