Last Tuesday I wrote about how knowing the author can help us understand the perspective of the news story. But just because we know an author’s perspective doesn’t mean we can just leave it at that and skip the article if differs from our perspective. They may provide a thought that we had not considered or even a helpful corrective where our thinking is deficient on a certain issue. Rather, we should seek to understand the arguments and positions of others and work to provide counter arguments.
So, keeping in mind the author and their perspective, what should we look for in an article?
How is the story framed?
An issue can have either a positive or negative connotation depending on how its framed. Perhaps there is no greater contemporary example of this than Planned Parenthood. If you follow the debate it used to be framed in terms of pro-life versus pro-choice. The problem that Planned Parenthood realized is that the choice is one of death. So to get over the stigma they re-framed the issue away from “choice” to “women’s health.” The issue is still abortion, but they have sought to re-frame the issue so that the killing of a child in the womb is viewed as a health service for women.
Similar framing takes place within the news as well. An unpopular opinion may be re-framed by trying to make it about X and completely ignoring Y. During political season, the same poll could be framed as one candidate “trailing three points” or “closing the gap to within three points.” The frame sets the stage for what follows.
Does the author use any words or descriptions that might be loaded or misleading?
This goes hand-in-hand with framing the issue, but here pay attention to how the author addresses their opponents. The golden rule for disagreement in civil discourse and debate is to only describe and name our opponents in terms that they would use to describe themselves and their position. The reason for this is that discourse revolves around ideas, not around personalities (even if we have turned this on its head in the past twenty years).
During the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, conservatives were routinely called fundamentalists. When the media used this term they undoubtedly used it in a derogatory sense meant to paint conservatives as old-fashioned and out-of-touch. If this type of rhetoric is present in a story, it reveals a great deal more about the author’s intentions than the opposition.
Who are the sources?
Finally, consider the sources consulted for the story. We have all watched the “Breaking News” as it happens on TV. Additionally, we have all seen reporters who appears to grab the first person who passed by who would say what they wanted them to say and put them on TV. Just as there is no completely unbiased reporting, there is no completely unbiased study or survey. Groups can put out studies and reports that push the agenda of the particular group. So there is always something behind that “study” that shows should be questioned.
Christians have a responsibility to think critically about the issues we are presented every day. This means that we should carefully consider everything that comes across our Facebook feeds and TV screens.