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As you try to be an informed citizen, it can be really tricky to manage the overload of information. In this episode we're breaking down how to find reliable news sources and build a healthy news habit.

Sporting News - "Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: The key stats you need to know in the GOAT debate" - https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nba/news/michael-jordan-vs-lebron-james-stats-goat-debate/sl8xdozy5u1m1s4t5m3npeqo1

FiveThirtyEight - "Why Michael Jordan Was The Best" - https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/why-michael-jordan-was-the-best/

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Picture this: you’re enjoying yourself at a museum – this is pre-coronavirus, in case that’s ruining the hypothetical for you.

You’re at a museum, admiring a peaceful, landscape painting. You turn to a friend to express your admiration for this work of art when...a marching band comes in.

Then suddenly, a dozen or so dogs walk through and start yapping and carrying on, like dogs do. And, just to ratchet things up a bit, Idris Elba walks in. Understandably, everyone starts losing their freaking minds.

This is when your friend turns to you and tries to give you the latest update on the election. It’d be impossible to have a conversation about anything while everyone’s fawning over 2018’s Sexiest Man Alive in the middle of an echoy, marble-floored dog park. Yet, in case you weren’t picking up on the metaphor, this is basically how we consume news today.

Social media, TV, radio, podcasts, everyone screaming at once…It’s like trying to get a sip of water from a firehose. Powerful, unwieldy, and you’re unlikely to get what you came for. But, you can feel informed without feeling like your brain is literally on fire.

Hi, I’m Evelyn from the internets, and this is the MediaWise Voter Guide. Today we’re going to learn how tame the beast that is your political news diet. [Theme Music]. Whether it's an election year or not, we should all try to stay on top of political news.

It’s our civic duty, after all, to vote for the local, state, and federal elected officials that lead our communities. And those elected officials operate all year round. So, knowing what they’re up to is critical.

What bills they’ve gotten passed or not, what they’ve been voting for, whether they’ve been improving life for their constituents – or not. All that info can help you decide who to vote for. But at some point or another, we all fall into some of the same roadblocks while gathering intel. - Finding trustworthy information - Determining what is reporting and what is opinion - And establishing healthy news habits.

Let’s start with finding trustworthy information. Regardless of your political persuasion or your medium of choice, it’s crucial to seek unbiased news sources. But, what does an unbiased news source look like?

There are few key qualities you should keep an eye out for wherever you find news. The first is Independence. Dependable news sources are not affiliated with any partisan organizations, like a political party or a reelection campaign.

They shouldn’t be doing the bidding of lobbyists or business interests by giving them preferential treatment. The next is Transparency. Your news source should explain how it keeps the lights on, whether it’s through selling subscriptions to customers or selling ads to businesses.

It should also label its stories by who wrote them. No anonymous staff or “contributor” bylines, please. Finally, look for Responsiveness.

You should be able to contact your news organization, either by email or a call-in tip line or at least sliding in their DMs. That doesn’t mean you’re entitled to a reporter’s time so you can yell about your sports opinions. Just that there should be some two-way communication with the public.

Now, how would you get that information about the source of the original information? It’s like info Inception. Info-ception.

Well, it’s 2020, so whether you’re talking about a newspaper or a TV station or a podcast, it’ll have a website. Visit and poke around. Look for an About Us page.

How long has this brand been around? Is it focused on a particular region? Is it part of a larger group of news organizations?

When you’ve discovered what you can on their site, do a double check. Use a search engine to find out what other sources have to say. Maybe take a look around its Wikipedia page.

Does it name an owner? Or where the brand originated? Is there a “controversies” section or an “awards” section?

Does it not have a Wikipedia page? Each of those questions can help you learn more. Just be sure to check the footnotes of any wiki page to be sure the facts are backed up by even more sources.

When checking for responsiveness, look for a contact page or form, or a masthead. A masthead lists the prominent employees of a news organization and their roles – like an editor in chief or publisher. Sometimes, a site will list all of its reporters names and beats, or the subjects they focus on, so you know who to contact with tips.

So, say you’ve got a handle on the background of the outlet you’re perusing. It’s also critical that you know the context of a story you’re watching or reading. Is it a news story, or an opinion piece?

The difference between the two can be subtle, which is one of the reasons we all struggle to identify them. Both should be grounded in facts and information that is verifiably true. A news story typically provides just those facts, perhaps with a bit of background about a situation.

It attempts to remain objective and neutral the whole way through. However, an opinion piece offers, of course, the author’s opinion of what those facts mean. They might offer analysis based on their own personal experience and how it relates to those facts.

For instance, this Sporting News story lists some of the most important stats and records in the careers of basketball greats Michael Jordan and LeBron James. It’s pretty straightforward, just the facts – who, what, where, when. It leaves any comparison up to the reader.

This Five Thirty Eight story also lists many of Michael Jordan’s accomplishments. However, it uses these facts to bolster an opinion: that Jordan is the best basketball player of all time. Now, the label “best player of all time” is inherently subjective; there’s no objective way to name the “best” person in a field like basketball.

There are just too many variables at play. Comparing athletes like that always becomes a wild debate. You can factually say someone is one of the highest-scoring, or holds the most records, or is the winningest player.

And winningest is, in fact, a word. But the term “best” is just impossible to concretely determine. So, in this case, this second story shares an opinion.

It uses some of the same facts as the first story, but it draws a subjective conclusion from them, based on the characteristics that the author has concluded makes someone the top athlete. Now, if you’re thinking, those sound pretty similar and are only really slightly different – you’re right. Sometimes it is that difficult to discern the difference between news and opinion, especially when they use the same starting material.

So, if they’re that hard to tell apart, how can you spot the difference in the wild? First, look for labels. Any news organization worth their salt will label their content, whether it’s online, in print, or even on TV or radio.

You might just see or hear the word “opinion,” or you might encounter words like “analysis” or “commentary,” too. These are variations on a theme – someone has taken their personal experience or expertise and drawn their own conclusions from the facts. Opinion, analysis, and commentary pieces sometimes come with a side of persuasion, too.

The author may write or script their bit so that they might convince you of their opinion. The fact that people can draw different conclusions from the same set of facts and they’ll try to get you on their side may sound a little overwhelming or maybe even sinister. But the existence of opinion content isn’t inherently bad.

We deal with such information overload these days that sometimes we want someone with specific expertise to explain how they see things. Opinion and commentary help us understand varied ways of looking at the world. What you have to remember, of course, is to always be gathering and experiencing different and conflicting types of opinions.

That way, you have a well-rounded understanding of the news and its context, and don’t get stuck just taking one person’s opinion as the gospel. Which brings us to our final roadblock: finding healthy ways to engage with news. Political news can make us feel some type of way.

During election season, it can feel like logging on is just stepping into a rabbit hole of emotion. Stories that make you angry, or sad, or anxious are everywhere. Your favorite candidate is polling this way, then that.

Their opponent said WHAT now?? And, in a lot of ways, that’s how the news and social platforms work. Brands need you to become emotionally invested in their stories.

That way, you subscribe or watch or click on their sites, and they can sell advertising based on your eyeballs. I always say “a hate view is still a view.” So, how do you avoid getting sucked in? Well, it’d be real easy for me to say, “just don’t log on” or “turn off the TV.” Might as well tell you, “Yeah, don’t binge watch the next season of Stranger Things.

Those kids aren’t funny OR adorable.” A more practical bit of advice is to find a couple sources of news that fit that criteria of trustworthiness. Then, find corresponding news products that end. That part is critical.

They have to have a point A and a point B. None of this scrolly, scrolly, scrolly, infinite brain on fire, can’t tear my eyes away nonsense. Could be a good old fashioned TV broadcast, the news at six.

Could be a daily email newsletter that gives you the most important headlines. Could be a morning podcast that dives deep into the day’s biggest story instead. Could even be one of those old fashioned newspaper things.

Can you believe they just … bring them right to your door? It’s like free 2-day shipping, except it’s every day. Whatever you choose, look for different points of view.

Then make them part of your routine. Before bed, when you get up, at lunch – whatever works best. Then, leave it at that.

Trust your daily screentime and your network – like, your real network of family and friends – that you’ll get any emergency information you need outside of your routine. By intentionally building a news habit and sticking to it, you can feel satisfied that you get all the information you need without drowning in it. In the end, you’ll be happier you did.

Like I said, it’s critical that we perform our civic duties and that includes being informed. But it’s possible to be informed without becoming an overwhelmed, anxious mess every time you get a push notification. And that’ll come in handy.

Because you’ll need all that brain power for deciding who to vote for. The MediaWise Voter Project (MVP for short) is led by The Poynter Institute – that's a journalism teaching non-profit. Complexly, the creator of this video, is a partner on MVP.

The MediaWise Voter Project is supported by Facebook.