Thinking Critically About the News

This course is about how to be a critical thinker, specifically we are going to be looking at how to critically evaluate the news media we consume.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thninking

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking does not necessarily mean you are a critic. A critical thinker is not simply someone who offers critique. Critical thinking is a way of digging beneath the surface of a situation. Instead of taking someone for their word, you evaluate who they are, where they got their information, what their motives are, etc. In other words, critical thinkers are like detectives trying to discover the facts.

One dictionary defines critical thinking as, "Disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence" ( Unabridged. Retrieved July 15, 2017).

What is critical thinking?

  • Being critical of the way your friends dress
  • Offering constructive criticism
  • A way of thinking logically about something to uncover the facts
  • A way of thinking that will help you launch a career as a critic

Five tips for thinking critically

Five Tips from TED-Ed

The following video offers five tips on how to think critically in general.

  1. Formulate your question
  2. Gather your information
  3. Apply the information
  4. Consider the implications
  5. Explore other points of view

Pick all five of the steps mentioned in the previous video.

  • Formulate your question
  • Gather your information
  • Apply the information
  • Consider the implications
  • Explore other points of view
  • Talk to other people
  • Eat a sandwich
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Look in a dictionary

Think critically about the news.

When should I think critically?

When to employ critical thinking techniques

We should always look at the world behind critical eyes. We never know when we will come across false or deceitful information. 

However, it would nearly impossible and take too much time for us to use the five-step process for every piece of information we encounter. 

All of us use heuristics (or mental shortcuts) to help us make decisions. That's okay! For example, instead of checking to see if the information presented in an article is correct by tracking down every source quoted, we may use the credibility of the organization who published the information as a heuristic to help us make a judgement about the article itself.

For most of the information we encounter, we will quickly use one or two quick critical thinking techniques to judge the information's reliability, accuracy, and validity. Again, this is okay!

However, there are some instances we will want to employ many more of our critical thinking tools to make judgments of information we come across. 

Here are some of the many instances where you will want to be extra critical  of the information you see:

  • When using information to guide your behavior
    • Making a large purchase
    • Making a lifestyle changes
  • When sharing information with others
    • Writing a paper or article
    • Giving a speech
    • Sharing information on social media
  • Allowing information to change the way you think
    • Making changes to your worldview
    • Making spiritual/religious decisions
    • Adjusting your notions about groups of people (races, religions, countries, etc.)

Many of these instances naturally occur while reading, watching, or listening to the news. Again, there is no need to be a detective for every news story we read, but whenever we are using a news story to justify a change in our behavior or attitude, we need to be extra critical of it. Whenever we are sharing a news story with others, we will want to make sure the facts presented in the story are correct.

Think critically. Is this true or false?

  • I need to look up every source cited in every piece of information I encounter.
  • I should think critically about an article before I share it on Facebook.
  • An article from a credible organization is always 100% factual. There is no need to check the facts before quoting it in a paper I am writing.

Five tips for thinking critically about the news

Five tips from John Spencer

The following video has five tips ("five C's") for thinking critically about the news we consume.

  1. Context - What is the context of the article?
  2. Credibility - Who published this article?
  3. Construction - How was the article written?
  4. Corroboration - Who else agrees with the article?
  5. Compare - Have you looked at the story from someone else's perspective?

Match each of the "five C's" from the previous video with a type of question.

  • Context
    What else was happening in the place and time this article was written?
  • Credibility
    Was this article written by a subject matter expert?
  • Construction
    Was the article written in first person?
  • Corroboration
    How many other news organizations are reporting about this story?
  • Compare
    What does this person's political opponent have to say about the same thing?

What if there is only one article about this subject?