Blog Tips: Discerning Which Sources to Use

One of the ongoing struggles—even more so given the misinformation coming from places of power (if you are a blog that talks about politics)—is to discern which sources[1] to use when writing your posts. As such, I think it is important to dedicate a blog tips post to talking about which sources of information to trust, because if we fail in discerning which sources to trust, we are doing an injustice to both ourselves and our readers.[2]

I will start by advocating for the use of sources to begin with. Even if your post is completely opinion-based, it is worthwhile to at least look at sources (even if you don’t cite them in your post) to make sure your opinion is based on facts.

But how can we, and how should we, discern which sources to trust?

I think that we should consider three things: currency, bias, and sourcing, or CBS (no, not the acronym for the network and major news source in the United States, though hopefully this acronym will make what I’m saying easy to remember).

Currency: Do we know when the piece was written, and if so, is the piece current?

You will want to see when the piece was written. If you don’t see a date on a particular piece, then I would recommend avoiding the source, as there would be no way of knowing whether the piece is current or was written several years ago.

Many sources show when the article was published. Please look at the date! There’ve been a number of times over the years when a news article would spread like wildfire on social media, but the article would turn out to be something published years ago even though some people (even some social media friends) would be promoting it as if current. The last thing you want is for your blog to be a source of promoting old news that’s no longer relevant.

Note: This is not to say that an old piece can’t be relevant. For example, a story from 2009 on Joe Biden’s role during the collapsing of the automobile industry is still relevant to today because it is a part of the extensive record of the president-elect, and particularly his record on handling crises. However, a piece from 2009 on a current events issue is not a piece to rely heavily on, other than for the purposes of seeing how a particular issue was being covered back in 2009.

Bias: What sort of bias might your source have?

I do not believe that there is no such thing as a source or an article with no bias whatsoever. Everyone has some level of bias. But that’s why it is really important to discern the bias of the source you’re reading.

An easy way to do this for news sources is to visit a site such as “Media Bias/Fact Check” and see where the news source (if the source you are looking at is on the site) fits along the spectrum of bias. If you are looking at a source and it falls into the categories of “least biased,” “left-center,” or “right-center” on Media Bias/Fact Check, then chances are quite high that the source is well-balanced and trustworthy. I will make a note, though, that if the source you are looking at has a “left-center” or “right-center” leaning, you may want to look at other generally credible sources (according to Media Bias/Fact Check or other well-regarded sites rating news sources based on media bias) to make sure that what you are reading is true. However, I would strongly recommend against using far-left and far-right sources, such as Huffington Post a Fox News, in your blog posts—such sources may be skewed to a particular viewpoint, unreliable as sources, and can result in producing an unreliable blog post.

Sourcing: What sources does the piece use?

All too often, an article posts about a particular issue or subject matter but does not quote anyone. Or, if they quote someone, it is someone who is not reputable or some entity that is not reputable (or someone who is “anonymous” or an “unnamed source”). If you come across a source like that, then the source you’re reading is not one you want to draw many conclusions from.

If you’re not sure whether the source (or sources) of knowledge for the piece is reputable, do a quick search of the person, people, or entities cited in the piece you’re reading, and/or do a search for the person who wrote the piece you’re reading. For example, if you’re reading an article on economic issues that cites findings from the Brookings Institution, then a quick search will help you find that the Brookings Institution is a highly respected center to center-left think tank that covers a variety of issues, including economics. But, if you’re reading a source on COVID-19 where only a podiatrist is cited, then you might not want to cite the source in your blog post.


So now that I’ve gone over things we should consider when discerning which sources to use in a blog post, what should we do if we have serious doubts about the source’s currency, bias, and/or source (CBS)?

Personally, I think it’s best to avoid citing any piece where there are serious doubts about its currency, bias, or source. If we use a piece with doubts about its currency, we run the risk of writing a blog post based on outdated information. I would also recommend against using sources with a far-left or far-right bias, because use of such sources can result in oft-inaccurate blog posts. I would also be careful with a piece when there are doubts about the sourcing, regardless of bias—the last thing we want is a blog post based on dubious sourcing (even if the article you are reading is not from a publication with a far-left or far-right bias).

But, regardless of my own personal take of what pieces to avoid or not, we need to remember how important CBS (not the network) is to determine which sources to use in our blog posts. Because if we don’t discern what we use in our blog posts on currency, bias, and sourcing, then we run the risk of our blogs becoming sources of misinformation.

Please note that as next week is Thanksgiving, I will not publish a blog post.



[1] I will be mostly referring to news sources in this post, but what I say here could be applicable to other types of sources.

[2] This post could double up as a “blind injustice” type of post, but given the amount of misinformation being spread online, I wanted to write this as a blog tips post so as to hopefully prevent readers from also unwittingly becoming sources of misinformation.

On Starbucks, Other Employers, and Racial Bias

While I took my break from the blogging world on the week of Memorial Day, Starbucks had racial bias training for its employees.

The reviews of the racial bias training from the general public were about as mixed as the reviews are for their lattes and cappuccinos. Some thought of this as a necessary step, while others were skeptical as to whether one afternoon of racial bias training would have any impact on individuals.

I will not use this post to review their racial bias training or racial bias training in general, because there are probably hundreds of other sites doing the same. Instead, I’m here to suggest that Starbucks and other employers should not just look at the racial biases of their rank-and-file employees but also at their own leadership’s racial biases. Likewise, we as consumers should look at the biases of not just rank-and-file employees but also at the leadership of companies.

Without looking both outward at employees and inward at the employer’s leadership, one ends up with a company like Starbucks, a company that outwardly gives the façade of attempting to be just but inwardly has its own biases. Those biases are demonstrated through the company’s stunning refusal to open up stores in neighborhoods dominated by people of color (even neighborhoods dominated by people of color that are middle class, such as my neighborhood in Queens). If you doubt me, look at how many Starbucks are in Harlem (in New York City), Chicago’s South Side, Baltimore excluding the parts around the Inner Harbor or Johns Hopkins University, or Philadelphia outside of Center City and the area near the 30th Street Station. Indeed, Starbucks’ bias training feels like a façade for its own biases.

However, I am not here just to pick on Starbucks, because the fact is that Starbucks is not the only large organization guilty of having bias training while having its own biases. For example, Google’s bias training has existed much longer than Starbucks’, yet their demographics demonstrate that there is bias somewhere along the way: their workforce is severely lacking in black and Latino employees, for example. The New York City Public Schools will spend millions in racial bias training for its educators while allowing a school system that is severely segregated. They are just two of numerous employers that have training to try preventing racial bias while continuing to have their own unconscious biases as an organization.

This is not to suggest that the racial bias training should end at these organizations—I am not enough of an expert (yet) on them to give an answer on that. What I am suggesting, however, is that we can’t just look at the racial biases of a barista at Starbucks or a public school teacher in New York City, but also the racial biases of those who decide where to open up Starbucks or those who decide on policies that segregate schools further in New York City. After all, if we fail to look at organizations’ racial biases, from top to bottom, we will find ourselves blind to a significant amount of racial injustice.

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Southeast DC is predominantly black. It is also almost completely lacking in Starbucks, just like many other American neighborhoods where people of color are in the majority. This picture taken by me.