Critically Thinking About Ferguson and Other News Stories

Diane Rhem did a piece today titled Judging The Credibility Of News In The Digital AgeIt was quite good. Because I’m preparing to teach this fall–I teach writing–a comment by Tom Rosenstiel caught my attention. Rosenstiel is the executive director of the American Press Institute and co-author of Blur: How to Know What to Believe in the Age of Information Overload. He suggested that people generally and young people in particular need to think more critically about the news.

To illustrate how to do this, he mentioned a checklist of questions, part of a larger article, that you can find on the American Press Institute’s website. To anyone familiar with critical thinking, the list of questions contains no surprises. To those who aren’t, it should prove helpful. In brief, the list contains six questions we should ask ourselves as we read:

1. Type: What kind of content is this?

2. Source: Who and what are the sources cited and why should I believe them?

3. Evidence: What’s the evidence and how was it vetted?

4. Interpretation: Is the main point of the piece proven by the evidence?

5. Completeness: What’s missing?

6. Knowledge: Am I learning every day what I need?

You should read the entire piece because Rosentiel discusses each point in much greater detail. The additional flesh on those six bones will help you better negotiate all the information you consume daily.

Question 5 proved particularly interesting when, later in the show, Diane fielded e-mail questions from the listening audience. One listener praised the advent of live streaming video, which enabled him or her to view what was going on in Ferguson firsthand and draw her/his own conclusions.

Adam Miller, another guest on the show, responded that people need to be careful because even live coverage doesn’t capture the whole picture. To illustrate, he said that the other night he was following fiver or six different live streams simultaneously. On one stream, he saw the police responding somewhat violently to what appeared to be peaceful protestors. Then he looked at another stream that showed another view of the scene, and he noticed some people throwing molotav cocktails. Suddenly, the actions of the police made more sense–in that instance, at least.