Where do you get your news?

Where do you get the information that keeps you informed about your community and the country and world?

Your news sources say a lot about you. This isn’t about whether you prefer Fox News or CNN or the BBC or the Huffington Post.

It’s about taking a step back and deciding whether or not the outlets from which we get our information are credible and responsible. Every day on social media I see friends posting and sharing “news stories.” These range from well-researched pieces to absolute trash.

I’m not talking about the funny or ridiculous things we post as entertainment. I’m talking about the “news items” we post to show our political leanings and to prove why what we believe is right. And why the other side is wrong.

I have friends all along the political spectrum who post the most idiotic “news” items to social media without thinking about where that item came from. You’ve seen those stories: “Michelle Obama kicks homeless veteran,” “Donald Trump fires thousands of employees just for being Hispanic,” “The conversation Bernie Sanders does NOT want you to know about,” and “Hillary hates Jews. Here’s why.”

The first thing I do is feel sorry for the person who posts stupid things like that.

They may actually believe the headline without even doing any research AND they actually expect that the “news” item they just shared will miraculously convince you that their political beliefs are right simply because they just posted a groundbreaking piece of journalism.

If you’re the type that enjoys posting political news items, can I ask you to do the most basic background check on those pieces before you make yourself look like a fool? 

The first thing you need to do is to look at the source. Don’t just read the headline and hit the SHARE button. Click on the link, read the story and take note of its source. If it’s “MakeAmericaWhiteAgain.com” or “LiberalDevilsHateAmerica.com” or “RepublicansAreIdiots.org” then maybe that source is just a wee bit biased. Maybe there’s an agenda there.

These are the sources you need to be careful with. Many of them have zero interest in actual journalistic ethics and will publish rumors, half-truths and outright lies because they know naive people will believe it out of hand and spread it around the internet.

I’m not going to tell you what news sources you need to be reading or following or sharing. Everyone needs to decide that for themselves. But I WILL ask that when deciding your news sources, that you make sure there are fundamental bases being covered. And this goes for local, regional, national and international news (yes, you should be concerned with events happening around the world as well as around your own community and country.)

Any fool can create a website or Facebook page, call it a “news outlet” and publish rumors, hearsay, and just copy and paste press releases. If you want to get your information from these lazy, irresponsible people, then be my guest. But a wise consumer of the news will make sure that their news source has gathered accurate information from multiple sources and reports it in a balanced, unbiased fashion. 

Is your news source using terms like “sources say,” “rumor has it” and “reports reaching our office say that...”? If they are, then they are doing a poor job. And you’re encouraging it. A legitimate news source quotes credible sources and experts and names those sources. A legitimate news source doesn’t just put unsubstantiated rumors up on a website so they can say they were the first to break the story.

This applies to all news, but I challenge you to hold your local news outlets in particular to these standards.

Look to see who’s quoted in a story. Look to see if both sides of an issue are given an opportunity to respond. Look to see if information is attributed to officials or experts who are qualified to speak on that issue.

It’s actually easy to spot a story or article that is more editorial (opinion) than news. Learn to recognize when claims and statements are speculation rather than fact. Legitimate news outlets will only report what they can confirm from officials.

And be skeptical of “journalists” who don’t actually go to an incident or event but write about it like they saw and know everything that happened.

Here’s a quick example:

Editorial/Opinion: The white car apparently hit a power pole on Turner McCall Boulevard. Witnesses said they saw the driver drunkenly stumble out of the vehicle. The driver is known to have driven intoxicated in the past. A female passenger is believed to have died in the wreck.

News: Jeff Smith, a detective with the Rome Police Department, said a white Nissan Altima struck a power pole on Turner McCall Boulevard at 2 p.m. on Thursday. The driver was taken into custody. Smith said a female passenger was taken away by ambulance but he would not comment on her condition.

Here’s the thing — the internet and social media make it really easy for all of us to share things we’d like people to see and know. Those include news stories and information that’s important.

Don’t be one of those people who want a story to be true so you share it without looking into it. Be a responsible sharer of information. Don’t be some idiot who quickly shares a story about Donald Trump slaughtering babies in his basement just because you don’t like the guy. It’s embarrassing. And it makes you look ignorant.

Severo Avila is features editor for the Rome News-Tribune.