Students’ Media Choices and the Reliability of Common News Outlets
By Eli Haynal
In the highly charged modern political climate, news media is essential for staying informed on current events, but reliability and bias are concerns when choosing news sources. Identifying trustworthy news outlets is a valuable skill for college students to learn.
A poll was conducted on The Collegian Instagram page asking respondents about their relationship with the news. Out of 118 responses, 57.6% said they keep up with the news.  However, 87.1% said they were concerned with the reliability of news sources.
This data suggests that some students do not keep up with the news but are still worried about reliability, which in turn suggests that students bear in mind the strong effect news and media have in social settings. Although not all students avidly follow the news themselves, they are still concerned that their peers are well-informed.
The survey also provided students an opportunity to share their most used news sources. One of the most common answers was the Apple News App, and runners-up included social media and popular television programs and newspapers. 
News apps collect a variety of information together for the viewer. Apps and websites that perform this service are known as news aggregators. They produce little to no original content, but have employees and algorithms dedicated to choosing official sources.
However, these algorithms are subject to bias. They are designed to guide viewers to articles that they will spend time on, providing the aggregator and original source with ad revenue. Their priority is to show viewers engaging stories, rather than those that provide the most pertinent and useful information.
Social media apps likewise collect a variety of information for viewers, but they are not news aggregators. The most important difference is that there is no screening for source reliability on social media apps, as anyone can make an account and begin posting. Additionally, they have algorithms that compound unreliability in a similar manner to news aggregators.
However, common news outlets such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, and NBC have social media accounts on many different platforms. The content on these accounts is subject to those outlets’ standards, so social media can still serve as a means of access to reputable news sources.
Some common news sources, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NPR, have publicly available rules for journalistic integrity that help to assure readers of their trustworthiness. [3,4,5] These journalistic standards outline specific rules writers and editors will follow when synthesizing information into a finished article, podcast, or TV broadcast.
However, television news networks play by a different set of rules. These companies are far more invested in maintaining viewership than most newspapers, so they have a vested interest in keeping viewers as engaged and interested as possible. As a result, these companies display much less stringent rules for ethical journalism, and some networks like FOX News provide none at all. 
Overall, The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, and The Wall Street Journal provide codified and specific standards of journalistic integrity that offer some assurance to their credibility. They can be accessed through aggregators and social media as opposed to their dedicated platforms without compromising their integrity.
However, there are many more news outlets available besides those discussed here. One excellent aggregator is AllSides.com, which provides readers with a side-by-side selection of articles from the political left, right, and center concerning various current events as well as rating the left-right bias of its sources. 
- Collegian Instagram Survey. Conducted on 2/22/2021.
- Ethical Journalism. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://nyti.ms/3dIcSsa
- Policies and Standards. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://wapo.st/37OSX7f
- NPR Ethics Handbook. NPR. Retrieved from http://n.pr/3suO2A0
- Sullivan, Margaret. When FOX News staffers break ethics rules, discipline follows — or does it? The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://wapo.st/2PeTclu
- About Us. AllSides. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/3bGyRgn
Hello! The name at the top of this page might say “Elijah Haynal,” but if you ever meet me please call me Eli. I am a freshman at WWU this year majoring in Biology, Math, and Pre-Med, and in my free time I enjoy reading, thinking, and going places (although I sadly haven’t been able to do the last of these much this year). I hope you enjoy my articles and if you ever see me around campus I hope you’ll say hello!