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.

Aziz Ansari, #MeToo and the Problem of Empathy

Honestly, I’m still struggling to find words on the Aziz Ansari sexual misconduct story.

However, fellow blogger Emily Sullivan Sanford talks about how the lack of coverage on sexual violence against developmentally disabled people (especially compared to coverage on Ansari) demonstrates how hidden this injustice is.

She is right. There is a lack of coverage on sexual violence against developmentally disabled people, and as a result there’s a lack of awareness on this issue. I know this because I wasn’t aware about this problem until I read her post.

This issue shouldn’t be ignored, since people with developmental disabilities experience sexual assaults at a rate seven times their counterparts without developmental disabilities.

I hope that all of us can learn a thing or two about sexual violence and developmental disabilities through reading this post.

via Aziz Ansari, #MeToo and the Problem of Empathy

A Major Lesson from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria

In recent weeks, three catastrophic hurricanes have caused mass devastation. These hurricanes—Harvey, Irma, and Maria—have provided numerous lessons for people to think about.

The lesson I want to focus on for this blog post is that the United States (or at least news media in the United States) only cares about a natural disaster if it hits one or more states.

The media’s treatment of Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria is a sad example of this. Last time I checked, losses from Maria in Puerto Rico totaled $72 billion—staggering when you consider the fact that storm costs are equal to nearly three quarters of the entire territory’s GDP of just over $100 billion! A humanitarian crisis is unfolding there, a crisis that may only be rivaled by few hurricanes in our entire nation’s history. Yet, since Puerto Rico is a territory instead of a state, Harvey and Irma received wall-to-wall coverage for days while Maria only got a mention of a few minutes at most until allegations of the federal government’s neglect began to dominate headlines.

If Puerto Rico got second class media coverage from Maria, then one could only imagine how much worse the media coverage was of Maria during and after hitting Dominica. The prime minister of Dominica had to be rescued and then said that the nation “lost all that money can buy.” There are reports saying that 98% of buildings in Dominica were damaged. Dominica is also in heavy need of humanitarian help. Unfortunately, American news media has reported very little on this, and I had to turn to news sources from Trinidad and Tobago (an island nation in the same region as Dominica) in order to get consistent and reliable information on Dominica.

In terms of media coverage, places like Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, and the Bahamas suffered the same relative lack of American media coverage during Hurricane Irma, even though all these places got pounded by a Category 5 hurricane. Instead, all of the focus was on the possibility of Irma hitting Florida, not on any impacts in other parts of the world.

However, there was one thing going for media coverage of Dominica with Maria, or several Caribbean nations with Irma: they were all in the path of a hurricane that was expected to hit a U.S. state or territory. Because of that fact alone, all of these nations got at least some level of media coverage.

The same could not be said about India with the catastrophic flooding that parts of the country recently received. The flooding rains in India were not heading to a U.S. state or territory. They were not heading to Florida, Texas, or even Puerto Rico. The flooding was on the other side of the globe, and as a result I heard practically zero media coverage about it. Or, at the very least, zero coverage until I listened to the BBC, which admittedly has a stake in what’s happening in India since India is part of the British Commonwealth.

Clearly, the United States, or at the very least American media, seems to care very little about natural disasters that don’t strike one of the fifty states.

But why is the lack of focus on disasters outside of the states unjust? It is unjust because, by largely ignoring people outside of the States, a message is being sent that not all lives matter. In fact, a message has been sent that the lives of people in the States matter most, that the lives of people in territories like Puerto Rico matter a little, and that the lives of people outside of U.S. states and territories don’t matter at all.