Thing 10

Thing 10. News Literacy: Evaluating Sources


Many people treat all information as though it were created equal, but we know that is not the case. Information is created for many purposes; it is to inform, to entertain, or to convince. Or information can be created to deceive, to misinform, or to confuse. Finding ways to identify the ‘good’ information from the ‘bad’ is one of the main objectives of Media Landscapes. 


In his presentation, Michael Spikes introduced the concept of Information Neighborhoods based on his work at the Center for News Literacy at Stonybrook University. In this chart, information is divided into six neighborhoods depending on the purpose of the information.

To be able to decide if you can trust the information, you want to know what neighborhood the information originated in. For the most part, staying in the journalism neighborhood, and with trusted news sources in that neighborhood, will help you be sure your information can be trusted. The other neighborhoods may have some reliable information, but may also aim to confuse or mislead you. Keep in mind that there is definitely a blurring between the lines in the neighborhoods. Entertainment Weekly, for example, purports to be news about the industry, but may also report rumors and innuendo about celebrities. Ad Age reports news about the advertising industry, but also speculation about contract awards, job changes, and more that may not be strictly news. Be aware of the content, and use critical thinking (see Thing 8) to decide what is reliable. 

The Center for News Literacy has a handy acronym to help determine if what you are reading or viewing is news and not from another neighborhood: V.I.A.

  • Verification: ​A process of collecting evidence that establishes or confirms the accuracy or truth of something.
  • Independence: Freedom from the control, influence, or support of interested parties, coupled with a conscious effort to set aside any preexisting beliefs and a system of checks and balances. 
  • ​Accountability: ​Being responsible or answerable for your work. 

You can read more about V.I.A here

Verifying Information

You have probably heard of various methods of fact checking, one of the components of critical thinking. There is the CRAAP test

  • Currency: the timeliness of the information
  • Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs
  • Authority: the source of the information
  • Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content
  • Purpose: the reason information exists

And the similar SMELL Test

  • Source – who wrote, published, or posted
  • Motivation – Why? sharing, telling, selling, persuading
  • Evidence – support = data, statistics, quotes, citations
  • Logic – facts that support conclusion
  • Left out – missing information, partial statements and out of context quotes

These mnemonic devices can be useful for remembering the steps, but critical thinking goes beyond checklists. In the article Enough With the Craap: We’re Just Not Doing it Right, Joyce Valenza discusses the research from the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG): Educating for Misunderstanding: How Approaches to Teaching Digital Literacy Make Students Susceptible to Scammers, Rogues, Bad Actors, and Hate Mongers that contends that traditional digital literacy tools,  like the CRAAP & SMELL tests, do not work when faced with a web filled with hoaxes and deep fakes and cloaked sites and source hackers and scammers. We can no longer treat internet information and websites the way we do print sources. 

Mike Caulfield is another researcher in this arena. His method is SIFT (The Four Moves) and a Habit. 

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see whether someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research. [Some places to look: Wikipedia, Snopes, Politifact and NPR’s own Fact Check website.]
  • Go upstream to the source: Most Web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information. Is it a reputable scientific journal? Is there an original news media account from a well-known outlet? If that is not immediately apparent, then move to step 3.
  • Read laterally: Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
  • Circle back: If you get lost or hit dead ends or find yourself going down a rabbit hole, back up and start over.

While similar to the CRAAP & SMELL tests, SIFT pushes readers/students to move beyond the page with lateral reading. Lateral reading (as opposed to vertical reading) is searching for information about a source while you are reading it; you are checking for currency, relevancy, authority, accuracy, and purpose by reading what other sites say about your source. This is different from vertical reading where you apply critical thinking using only the information the site itself provides you. 

Critical thinkers read laterally, leaving a site after a quick scan and opening up new browser tabs in order to judge the credibility of the original site to arrive at more warranted conclusions in a fraction of the time.

The Habit is Building a Fact-Checking Habit by Checking Your Emotions. When you feel strong emotion–happiness, anger, pride, vindication–and that emotion pushes you to share a “fact” with others, stop. Above all, these are the claims that you must fact-check. Here’s an infographic with the Four Moves. 

Lateral Reading

As noted above, lateral reading is searching for information about what you are reading, while you are reading it. Instead of staying on the page, you move beyond that one page to the wider web or other resources as you seek to verify the information.How to verify what you’re reading while you are reading it:

  • Open lots of tabs in your browser.
  • Get off the site you are on.
  • Do a deliberate Google search for the source or information you are evaluating.
  • Read what trusted and reliable sources are saying about the site or claim. Try to find four or five other sources that discuss your source.

Note: The terms Lateral Reading and “Click Restraint” are derived from research conducted by Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.


Information Neighborhoods

Information neighbourhoods (5:04) | Shout Out UK 

Learn more about lateral reading with these videos.

Sort Fact from Fiction Online with Lateral Reading (3:47) | Stanford History Education Group

Check Yourself with Lateral Reading: Crash Course Navigating Digital Information #3 (13:51) | CrashCourse (John Green)


How to Read the News Like a Fact Checker | Facing History and Ourselves

Improving College Students’ Fact-Checking Strategies Through Lateral Reading Instruction in a General Education Civics Course | Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications. Volume 6, Article number: 23 (2021).

Q: Why do we use Wikipedia for lateral reading? Since when has Wikipedia become a reliable source? | NewsLiteracyMatters (CUNY)


Do you teach using the CRAAP Test? Take this quiz to find out how well you know this popular method.

Plan a display in your library or media center about information neighborhoods. What would you include? Newspapers? Magazines? Screenshots of videos? Describe it in the comments section below. And if you do such a display, send us pictures!

Plan a lesson or presentation on lateral reading. Who would be your audience? What would you include? Would you have a ‘hook’ to catch their attention (since lateral reading isn’t such a great presentation title.) Share in the comments below. 

Conversation Starters

Specific to your library or educational community, can you think of any ways to demonstrate lateral reading? 

In general, what reliable sources do you use in the Journalism neighborhood? In the Entertainment neighborhood? 


Additional Resources 

The Center for News Literacy offers lessons and resources to present to classrooms or groups.

What’s the Difference Between Lateral Reading and Vertical Reading? By Terry Heick.

Media Literacy: Flex Your Fact Checking Muscles, Read Laterally. A Lesson Plan.

University of Oregon Research Guides for Fake News and Identifying Sources

“Don’t Go Down the Rabbit Hole” by Charlie Warzel. New York Times. 

2 thoughts on “Thing 10”

  1. The School Library Journal’s article “Enough with the CRAAP” was really eye-opening. Most people evaluate websites using top-level domains, their “about” pages, how frequently the site is being updated or the site’s design. These are wrong approaches to take. I have to admit I’ve been guilty of doing all of that when I should have been going upstream to the original source of the claim and doing more lateral reading.

    Also in the study among Stanford students, even though Stanford is a highly selective college, over two thirds were not able to identify a given news story as satirical. This suggests that educators need to rethink their strategy about how to teach students how to evaluate news sources for validity.

  2. The SIFT method seems much more effective at evaluating information. I want to begin teaching that to students. Using the 4 Moves and a Habit pdf is a good tool to help. I also like the idea of Information Neighborhoods. I think that is a good analogy that students can grasp.

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