How to find good information.
September 2, 2012 6:10 PM   Subscribe

How do I find reputable, factual, unbiased sources of information? Anything from breaking news (global or local) to current issues to scientific studies. I'm looking for the kinds of sources that will give a good overview or analysis of a topic, and then show me their sources so that I can investigate further if I wish. Websites and printed sources are the most helpful for me as a student, but I welcome any suggestions.

Please read my question slowly and carefully. If you are the kind of person who has strong political views, keep that in mind when you respond. I want facts, not other people's opinions. Thank you!

I live in the state of Georgia. We get the Atlanta-Journal Consitution, TIME, Smithsonian, Discover, and Consumer Reports.
posted by gray17 to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think unbiased news reporting exists. I just don't think it's possible to be truly objective. Everything we observe is filtered through our own sets of experiences and expectations before we report it.

For USian news, try BBC online. They're maybe a little more impartial because they're less invested in our current events.
posted by dchrssyr at 6:34 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have to evaluate each piece on its own. Consider the author's bio, perhaps Google the author, look at the worldview he or she is writing from. To be honest, pretty much anything will have slight bias -- it's up to you to determine what the bias is, how strong it is, and how that affects your reading of the piece.

Certain types of media are more biased than others. For example, newspapers certainly tend to be more strongly biased that peer-reviewed papers. Most journals are peer reviewed, and will thus tend to have more unbiased information. But bias can still enter in unintentionally.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:35 PM on September 2, 2012

Honestly? Wikipedia. Sources are linked.

Outside of that, everything you read will carry the writer's voice. The Wiki model of having writers fight it out comes closer to a one-source equilibrium.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 7:02 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

>I don't think unbiased news reporting exists. I just don't think it's possible to be truly objective.

The first sentence is true. The second may not be. The truth is that none of them bother to try anymore.

It used to be that news operations would try to keep their reporting objective. After the Nixon years, they simply gave up trying, and to justify this they now claim that it is not possible.
posted by yclipse at 7:11 PM on September 2, 2012

As far as science goes, you should go to the primary source, especially if you are a student, which is the actual paper published in a journal. You can often find these papers either by googling or searching on pubmed/scopus/web of knowledge the authors or the title of the study referenced in the news article or press release.

For a solid overview of current science, you can look at the news/views section of Science or Nature, which does a good job covering the issues for non-specialists (but at a very high level).

For current events and news, I turn to the NYT and the New Yorker which, given the sorry state of the news media, are probably better than the rest in terms of being rigorously fact-based and sticking to non-trivial matters. (I would trust the New Yorker much more than the NYT...given the history of even the NYT getting the facts wrong on some very important issues in the last decade.) I also tend to check in with Reuters for breaking world news.

What others have mentioned is basically true--there is no such thing as truly "objective" news reporting. Everything is filtered through a particular perspective by the reporter and the editorial decisions in the news room can decide whether the event to be reported is newsworthy or not. What you're getting at is a very complicated topic especially when you factor in the fact that the news is often manipulated by the politicians for their own means, from local issues all the way to world events. To understand what is going on in the world requires you to be curious, a lot of reading and cross referencing with primary source material (if such material exists, usually in the form of GAO briefings and reports for government policy) and a conscious effort to stay critical about what is being reported.
posted by scalespace at 7:18 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The jury system is an answer to the question. Neither the prosecution nor the defense is unbiased. On the contrary, they are deliberately biased in opposite directions. Each makes the best case he can for his biased side, and the jury listens to them both and comes to a conclusion.

For you, your best choice is to do the same. Assume that all news sources are biased, because they are. So find one that is clearly and visibly biased to the left (i.e. the NYTimes) and one which is biased to the right (Fox News) and for any given issue, read what they both say. Then make up your own mind.

I go even further than that: for controversial issues, I read opinion journals. For the left side I read The New Republic and for the right side I read National Review.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:52 PM on September 2, 2012

I'm also of the opinion that there is no unbiased news source. Even the decision of what news to report has inherent bias.

I like The Economist for straight news. Its biases are pretty self evident (pro free market, pro democracy) and though my politics are somewhat to the left of its editorial board I get a lot out of each issue. The opinion pieces are reasonably even handed -- and fact-based -- and the news reports are incisive. It also covers news from parts of the world that don't get much play in other media.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:15 PM on September 2, 2012

Al Jazeera and the BBC will give you good overviews of international news stories from perspectives outside the United States.

The New York Times is a popular suggestion but it is a very provincial newspaper in a lot of ways.

There is no such thing as an unbiased source of news. What you have to do is learn to read the biases of the reporter and his or her institution. That's on you.

I'm a non-Western historian and this is professional advice.
posted by vincele at 8:22 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although some bias is inevitable (what is unbiased information? could you point some out to me?) you should seek out the sources that try to be unbiased. For news, some choices are clear: FOX News doesn't try. The Washington Post tries, as does the NYTimes and the Wall Street Journal. The Economist seems to try as well. For science, Scientific American is more reliable than Discover, largely because it talks down to its audience less.

Really, however, Wikipedia is where it is at. An army of volunteers, obsessed with neutrality and citation? No other source has that kind of resources or obsession.
posted by pmb at 8:25 PM on September 2, 2012

Multiple sources is the only way.
News media aren't the only ones that are biased: each of us has his/her own bias.
So you have to find different news sources about a fact, but also sources that challenge the way you think theses facts should be framed.
posted by bru at 8:55 PM on September 2, 2012

I find some of the recommendations noteworthy. The New Yorker is a fine source, as is The Economist, and the NYT leaves a bit to be desired, but I find it surprising no one has mentioned the NK News site found here. Truly a bastion of undiluted and objective news, as one can only expect from the world's only totalitarian state.

Good for a few laughs anyway ... maybe?
posted by Ralph at 10:52 PM on September 2, 2012

For health news go no further than NHS Choices - Behind the headlines. It's basically people at the National Health Service in the UK explaining the simplistic news headlines you get almost every day. They also point out the shortcomings of the scientific studies the news are based on.

Eurotopics is a press review covering current events by presenting summaries from the most relevant european newspapers with links to the original articles. It also explains the political orientation, ownership and position on its home market for each news source. For instance, today you get opinions on the "heating up of the American election" from a liberal italian newspaper, a left wing english one, an independent dutch one and a conservative spanish business paper.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 3:16 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition to reading the suggestions here, go to your library and ask a reference librarian this question.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:22 AM on September 3, 2012
posted by OsoMeaty at 6:31 AM on September 3, 2012

Also, just wanted to add something about following local news--your home town paper is probably as good as its going to get. TV stations often turn to the newspaper to see what is worth following and sadly, in terms of TV news, the cliche "if it bleeds, it leads" is king. They rarely give non-crime related issues much airtime so you have to turn to the paper for that. And many of these issues are non-trivial and require a lot of background and explanation to really explain the core of what's at stake.

I would check to see if your local newspaper (i.e. the AJC) have any blogs that cover local issues in real time for the scoops and then follow up later to see if they wrote a more detailed/balanced account in an article. It used to be that cities would have more than one established newspaper and you would get some diversity in the viewpoints on a particular local issue but two-paper cities are very rare now.
posted by scalespace at 9:15 AM on September 3, 2012

The Washington Post tries, as does the NYTimes and the Wall Street Journal.

The WSJ has some decent sections, but also has a huge section (op-ed pages) that is wedged firmly into batshitinsanity territory. I read the WSJ, but I literally throw out that whole section, first because it's unreadable; second because so many people regard it to be a serious newspaper I despair that they're letting such nonsense fantasyland drivel get through and that there are lots of people who take it seriously given their views on the paper as a whole.

The Financial Times is a UK newspaper, is not owned by the Murdochs and while it does have some slant in the op-ed's (both ways), they are almost always intelligently thought-out and written. The world news and politics reporting is excellent as well.

But I agree with people who have mentioned Wikipedia above. The initial article will generally give a good overview and you can often find the excellent primary sources linked in the reference section for further study.

A few other recommendations:

The following Murdoch-owned media can probably safely be ignored (Wall Street Journal, Daily Mail, Fox News, New York Post)

Al-Jazeera and BBC as mentioned above, are non-US media, and have no direct stake in US politics so you may get a clearer view from them.

The Guardian has a slant, but has very intelligent reporting.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:53 AM on September 3, 2012

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