What’s Your Source?

What’s Your Source? December 13, 2016

Dawn Trautman shared this image on Facebook. Does it match your perception of these sources? If not, do you assume that the issue is with the chart, or with your perception?


Also, does the infographic itself convey the message that being a political centrist is more correct than leaning to the right or left? Isn’t that assumption one that deserves to be challenged? And indeed, isn’t the fact that some centrist sources are criticized for sensationalism making precisely this point? Moreover, might it not be that among sources which are well-informed, thoughtful, and open to critical investigation of their own viewpoint as well as that of others, the truth on any given matter may turn up somewhere around the left, center, or right? Or perhaps we should expect that, when there is a clear answer that can be given rather than just an opinion or value judgment, we should expect to find agreement across the spectrum at the top of the infographic?

Discussing individual news sources and their biases is just one aspect of information literacy. See the ALA framework for information literacy for more information, which Bucknell University has turned into a series of postersMore detailed infographics exploring information literacy can be found here. Many university libguides also provide useful information on this topic. Of course, many people experience “library anxiety,” fearing that their ignorance will be exposed and they will look foolish if they seek assistance. But in an era of fake news and fearmongering, those who suffer from this anxiety need to face that fear, and to learn that the consequences of not informing oneself are much scarier.

Of related interest, Chris Bateman’s book Wikipedia Knows Nothing is now available, and can be purchased or downloaded for free via his website.



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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Iain Lovejoy

    The labels on the two columns to the left and right of the central one are what makes the graph a bit dodgy, by using the word “skew”. Whether a news source is left, right or centrist is irrelevant if the journalistic quality is good, because good journalism involves not allowing the paper / media outlet’s political views interfere with the reporting of the facts and keeping fact and opinion separate. The inverted “v” shape of the graph is telling – in reality what you have is three ways in which journalism can be bad journalism: two of them, over-simplification and lack of proper investigative efforts on the vertical, and one of them, political bias interfering with factual accuracy falling away on the horizontal on either side of the three central columns (depending on the direction of the bias). The implication that news sources with a political viewpoint (or a political viewpoint on one particular end of the spectrum or the other) which nevertheless maintain high journalistic standards are on that account less reliable seems to me untrue.

    • Ponder this

      Well as limited in scope as the chart is it does NOT seem to rule out the possibility of one news source or even several as scoring high on both the vertical and horizontal axis, i.e. a high degree of analytical complexity with a defined political agenda. As much a such a journal would have a hard time being regarded as a neutral source of news , they could very well be a very good opinion site. Curious as to wether you think of any that would fit that criteria.

      • Iain Lovejoy

        The horizontal axis in its descriptions assumes that political opinion = political bias, and that having a political stance broadly in the middle of the current range of left / right political views is the same thing as being unbiased and neutral in the presentation of news. I think you are right in distinguishing between news and opinion sites and also in pointing out that an opinion site can still provide high quality information in the sense of fact checking, careful analysis and being honest and open about the facts on which its opinion is based.
        I can’t really help on reliable opinion sites for politics etc as I don’t tend to read them, and am any event UK based so it would be UK politics I would be looking at anyway.
        For news I prefer neutral fact-giving with clearly separate opinion pieces (so you can tell them apart): the BBC and the UK Independent website / online newspaper tend to be my primary sources if I am not specifically looking something up.

        • Ponder this

          For the record, both Hubby and I see BBC as the best news source for people here in the USA . Their coverage of the election was far more neutral and yet more in depth.

    • TrevorN

      I don’t think the chart implies that it is not possible for an organ with a marked non-centrist editorial position but a strong commitment to factual reporting and high standards of journalism to exist. More that there aren’t any well-known outlets like that in today’s world. If you can identify any, please do!

  • Chronos Z. Wonderpig

    I can’t find Drudge on the chart…must be on the center line off the top of the chart!

  • What the chart lacks is where the viewer perceives the “mainstream” ought to be. Your average conservative is gonna look at the center line (NPR, BBC, the Post, the Times, etc.) and balk: “Oh, they aren’t mainstream. They’re liberal.” Because they’re more liberal than the conservative.

    Likewise someone on the far left is gonna perceive everybody on the chart as conservative—and the clickbait wingnuts as beyond the pale.

    • Alan Christensen

      Like Colbert says, facts have a well-known liberal bias. I think it’s a hoot when right-wingers describe the NY Times or Washington Post as far left. This chart seems pretty good to me; I’d put myself on the progressive left but there are conservative sources I can at least stand to read/listen to some of the time. Occupy Democrats, on the other hand, I dropped from my Facebook feed a few months ago because it was inundating me with sensationalized versions of stories I was getting from other sources anyway. Definitely clickbait.

  • Sarah JT Bruce
  • Ponder this

    Simple question as I have looked and I can not find out the ORIGINAL source of this chart. Does any one know where it came from? A fine thing that– is a post about sources with an untraceable source.

    • I presumed that it was made by the person I indicated.

      • Ponder this

        Well I also shared this image ( prior to coming to this post) as did my Mensa group but I do not presume either of us made the image. If she is on your friend’s list you could ask her.
        There are a lot of Dawn Trautman’s out there on FB, so I am not going on a fishing expedition. But It would be nice to know the true original source simply as “know your sources” is the topic here.

    • Dave Burke

      I can not find out the ORIGINAL source of this chart. Does any one know where it came from? A fine thing that– is a post about sources with an untraceable source.

      Look again. It clearly states ‘© Vanessa Otero 2016’ at the bottom of the picture. Her Twitter address is also given: @vlotero

      • As is clear from the discussion below, the meme did not have the authorial attribution in the form in which it first circulated. It was updated to a version with attribution when its creator produced a revised version of it. Again, see below for more details.

        • Ponder this

          Thank for clarifying that and protecting my honor., and the context you provided as well was much more helpful than merely a name.

      • Ponder this

        For the record I note a recent discussion as of three days ago where the source file was modified to reflect the authorship- Prior to that it did not!!
        Additionally a copy right from an unknown Twitter source is no better and possibly worse than NO source at all. But at least it becomes traceable.
        >> Look again 5 days ago it did not;

        Per most recent discussion inclusion that of the author of the original Paethos post :
        >> Look again 5 days ago it dd not:

        >>James F. McGrath Mod Pam Sowerwine • 3 days ago
        Thank you for getting her to make this – it was unfortunate that the original version she made included no attribution of authorship!
        • Reply•Share ›
        Pam Sowerwine James F. McGrath • 3 days ago
        I agree, and am glad that she fixed it. 🙂
        • Reply•Share ›

  • senile_old_fart

    I would add the New Republic to the top, center right.

  • See Noevo

    “Does it match your perception of these sources?”

    Based on a quick look, no, it doesn’t.
    The graphic should show *much farther to the left* sources such as NPR, The
    Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN.

    • I am curious what leads you to conclude that those sources are “much farther to the left” rather than you being further to the right than you realize. After all, these terms are merely points of comparison within the framework of a given society – both major American parties would be right of center in the context of any European democracy.

      • See Noevo

        “I am curious what leads you to conclude that those sources
        are “much farther to the left” rather than you being further to the
        right than you realize. After all, these terms are merely points of comparison within the framework of a given society – both major American parties would be right of center in the context of any European democracy.”

        Speaking of Europe, I’ll make one addition: I have a feeling
        The Economist should be placed farther left, closer to The Guardian, and
        Reuters may be OK where it is.

        But your overall point might be right. In North Korea, for
        example, both major American parties, as well as all these news services, might be squeezed close to the far margin.

  • robertvroom

    I see the article as being useful in determining which news sources might be useful in a discussion or argument. If I am a conservative arguing with a liberal, this seems to imply I should try to use sources from the center and left of center when possible. The more of your opponent’s sources you can use while making your case, the stronger the case will be.

  • See Noevo

    I might adjust my first post below. I think I might pull The Washington Post back a little more to the right.

    “Above all, Aleppo represents a meltdown of the West’s moral
    and political will — and in particular, a collapse of U.S. leadership. By
    refusing to intervene against the Assad regime’s atrocities, or even to enforce
    the “red line” he declared on the use of chemical weapons, President Obama
    created a vacuum that was filled by Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Revolutionary
    Guard. As recently as October, Mr. Obama set aside options drawn up by his
    advisers to save Aleppo. Instead, he supported the delusional diplomacy of
    Secretary of State John F. Kerry, whose endless appeals to Moscow for
    cease-fires yielded — as Mr. Putin no doubt intended — nothing more than a
    humiliating display of American weakness.”


  • Amy Jones

    You are confusing news with commentary on the news. “News” is a reporting on events that have happened. These events are not partisan. What this graphic shows is 1. the quality of journalism; from clickbait or just blatantly false to in depth and complex. 2. and how heavily the associated commentary is weighted to one side of the political spectrum or the other.

    If you’re only getting a reporting on events, where you get that information is irrelevant. You can hear that there was an officer involved shooting on 1st Street at 8pm on Sunday evening and those facts will remain the same regardless of your source. (unless you’re getting your news from those red circles at the bottom corners of this graphic. Then you might not even be getting accurate news.) The commentary on that is very significant because the perspective of the source may leave out context that another perspective may not. Commentary is the opinion of the outlets themselves and getting opinions from only one source is what is known as an echo chamber. Being in that echo chamber means that you only receive opinions that you already agree with. So unless you believe that you are always right, and that no new information could ever change your opinion, and are therefore infallible, getting news from sources that either disagree with you or will provide less partisan commentary is important.

    The blue ovals indicate both how partisan the commentary is, but those sources also tend to confuse news and commentary. Which is a problem. Reporting opinions as fact is very common and it can be difficult to catch. Which means that if you’re watching only Fox News or reading things from only Occupy Democrats, you may be simply absorbing another person’s opinions as fact without any critical analysis. I think it’s fairly self evident what that’s a problem.

    • arcseconds

      But even just a ‘straight reporting on events’ isn’t unbiased. After all, some decision has to be made as to what is newsworthy. Someone has to decide that the officer involved in the shooting is important to report, and another similar officer who was involved in catching up on paperwork that evening isn’t.

      And if your newsfeed is filled with stories of shootings, and doesn’t bother reporting crime statistics (which might be what the paperwork was for) because statistics (*yawn*) then you may well end up with a view that your society is hopelessly violent and dangerous, whereas even in the USA violent crime is at a vastly reduced rate than it was in the 80s and early 90s.

      • Amy Jones

        Which is a very good argument for why you shouldn’t get all your news from one source. But that doesn’t make the facts that those networks report on less reliable. And your point is also, to an extent, the point of the original graphic. Where you get your news matters. Some sources are more trustworthy than others. If you get most of your news from partisan sources, you’re likely to subscribe to a world view that could be skewed because your source prioritizes events that back a polarized political view. I suspect that we may be saying the same thing in different words.

  • jh

    The criteria seems suspect. Why should an issue be “fair and balanced”? To put it to an example that I hope that most Americans find absurd – Should we give equal weight to a pro-slavery position and an anti-slavery position?

    The very idea that holding to a centrist position is the best position is absurd in some cases. For example – climate change is real. It is occurring. The majority of climate scientists from around the wold agree with it. The consequences of ignoring climate change will be catastrophic to human society as we know it. Why should we have a “we don’t know because the climate scientists says one thing but Ted Cruz says another thing” sort of nonsense? The centrist position has a dangerous way of putting ignorance and expertise on the same level even though they are not. I have yet to meet a person who would ask their mechanic to perform open heart surgery. Why? Because expertise matters.

    That’s what your post was about, wasn’t it? the idea that centrism was the correct position in evaluating news. (When we are facing an unknowable x, we are allowed to have a centrist opinion. But when we have some knowledge or are able to make an educated guess, the idea of centrism seems laughable. I think a lot of posters mentioned this – that truth matters. That should have been the essential criteria rather than centrism.)

    • Indeed – political centrism, at worst, may resemble the “fair and balanced” approach that the media sometimes takes, which is merely an attempt to look impartial, when in fact often it is giving a voice to obscure fringe views in the interest of giving an appearance of “fairness” which in fact is anything but.

  • Pam Sowerwine

    Please give correct attribution for the chart to Vanessa Otero who created it. Here is an edited (by her) version with the correct Creative Commons information at the bottom.

    • Thank you for getting her to make this – it was unfortunate that the original version she made included no attribution of authorship!

      • Pam Sowerwine

        I agree, and am glad that she fixed it. 🙂

      • Ponder this

        Thank you again. and for defending my honor.

  • Joseph Talbot
  • OhSoGood

    But the wingnut right news sources are by far the most fun…

  • laura

    I believe the graphic is rather fair. I will still continue to read many of them – both left and right, and rely on common sense to arrive at conclusions.