Below are some tips on how to spot real news, as provided by Andrew Marr, former Political editor BBC News.
All of the text below is my *paraphrasing* of a chapter’s points in his book MyTrade, all of which are intended to provide a taster of Marr’s advice. Out of a sense of duty, I’m providing a link to the book at Amazon.
Follow the names
If you find a reporter who seems to know the score, cherish him / her. Bylines are often the only signal that gold, rather than dross, lies below.
Be aware reporters are less embarrassed to let the bias show. If a reporter regularly leans towards a specific party leader or individual, be aware this may point to the source of the story.
Read the second paragraph and look for quotes
The first paragraph is designed to sell, so look in the second. If it’s still fluffy, it’s likely there’s very little in the story. Also, look for direct quotes. Who are the sources. Are they named? ‘An industry analyst’ (ie my best mate) or ‘observers’ (nobody at all), then treat the story sceptically. If you keep coming across well written anonymous quotes, be suspicious.
If the headline is a question, try answering ‘No’
To a busy journalist hunting for real information a question mark means ‘don’t bother reading this bit.’
Watch out for quotation marks in headlines
These are often signs of failed reporting. The newspaper is likely to be reporting someone else’s view. These quotes can save you time in reading.
Read small stories and attend to page two
Sub editors have blind spots and can reduce important stories (according to you) to a few lines. The same goes for page two – these may have been bumped off the front page to make way for something ‘brighter’ that may sell newspapers on the newsagent’s counter.
Often put out by dodgy academics to gain publicity, which can be used for future funding applications. Look for how many people were surveyed. Seek out the ‘expert’ and who they work for. Would a real expert do / say this? Are they a doctor, professor or ‘researcher, Jeff Mutt…’
Check the calendar
Not just for April fools, but for annual stories. ‘disgust’ as A-level results increase again, or an annual art show ‘causes uproar’. You’ve read these before and you’ll read them again next year. On a busy day, flick on.
Suspect financial superlatives
It’s expected that teachers will get ‘their highest ever pay deals’, however excited the Minister sounds. Instead look at how these figures relate to the rate of inflation or with other similar / relative figures. Are bosses being paid more than shop floor staff.
Remember that news is cruel
Is life really full of failure and loathing? No. Newspapers don’t report happy news. Forgiveness or friendliness are hardly ever news. That’s why there is a group of people who seek out happier / trusted news sources.