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Evaluating Newspapers & Magazines: Home

Why Evaluate Newspapers & Magazines?

newspaper clip art                   stack of magazines

 Newspapers and magazines and their blogs/websites often have editors and fact checkers monitoring their content, which makes them more reliable.  But this does not always make them the best sources for your topic.

We have put together some questions to consider when selecting newspapers and magazines.  It is all these factors combined that help you decide that a source is useful not just one or two.

Evaluating for Quality

Who is writing?

Magazines and newspapers articles are typically written by journalist who do not typically have a specialty in the subject they are covering.  Their job is to report on a variety of subject and remain objective in the process.  It is still a good idea to find out more information about them.

  • What topics do they typically cover?  A one off piece in this subject area may not be the best choice.
  • Are they assigned a particular subject area?  There are journalists who cover only politics, science, fashion, etc.,
  • Are they regularly writing for well known publications?  This could mean they have a reputation for producing good work.
  • Is it an opinion piece? Why might their opinion be valuable or biased?  Keep in mind that opinion pieces are not usually fact checked by editors and often show an author's biases.

What if an author is not listed or it says special to [name of paper] or AP (Associated Press) or Reuters?

  • In the case of no author, it doesn't mean you cannot use the source as it may be a staff writer or editor for the newspaper or magazine who wrote it.  You'll need to consider the reputation of the newspaper or magazine instead of the writer's reputation and knowledge.
  • For those with AP or Reuters, these are news services that produce typically shorter articles that are reproduced in many different newspapers and magazines, so you'll need to investigate their reputation and purpose instead of an individual.

What is the audience for the newspaper and magazine?

  • Who is reading this newspaper or magazine?
    • Is it directed everybody or at a particular population like parents or scientists?
      • Everybody: PeopleUSA Today, etc.,
      • Particular Populations: Magazines like ParentingScientific American or newspapers like The Christian Science Monitor Weekly 
    • Does it provide coverage of a particular place or region only?
      • Local newspapers like The Poughkeepsie Journal or magazines like Hudson Valley
  • Is it a national reaching newspaper or magazine?
  • What is its political position if any? Left, Right, or neutral?
    • Check out the Media Bias Ratings page on Allsides.com to see where the sources falls on this spectrum.

What is the purpose/mission of the source?

Find the "about us" page on their website, see if they have a mission statement page on their website, or read a Wikipedia article if there is one available to find out more about them.

  • What topics do they cover?  Does the magazine or newspaper specialize in a particular subject area?
  • Why do they produce information?  What is their goal?
  • Do they have journalistic standards that they adhere to?
  • What is their reputation as a news source?

When was it published?

Because these sources are produced relatively quickly, are shorter, and often contain only the most recent information on a topic, it is worthwhile to pursue newer magazine and newspaper articles.

That being said for history and communication studies, it is perfectly fine to use older newspaper and magazine articles as sources since they will serve as primary source evidence of an event or time period.

Evaluating for Relevance

What kind of information does it provide?

There are several different types of articles found in magazines and newspapers and the information they provide varies.  So when selecting an article from a newspaper or magazine, think about what kind of article it is and what type of information it provides.

Feature Articles

These articles tend to be lengthier and offer more in depth coverage of a topic. 

  • Does it offer background/history of a topic?
  • Is it the current state of an issue?
  • Are they interviewing a figure central to this topic?
  • Are there current and useful statistics?

Editorials/Letters to the Editor

These are generally opinion pieces, sometimes representing the position of a publication, but more often representing the opinion of an individual.  They can provide valuable insight into how people view a topic, but remember they may not provide unbiased information.  

So think about the following:

  • How could you use a publication's or individuals's opinion?
  • Is it representative of a general consensus by one side?
  • Could it be useful to compare opinions from different sides of the same issue?

News Briefs

Often short news stories of one paragraph or less.  They may announce an important event, research, etc., but often don't provide much information beyond this.  They could serve as evidence of something occurring, but don't have much else to them.  These may not be the best sources of information as they are the most shallow of newspaper and magazines articles as they don't provide very much information.

Blog entries

Newspapers and magazines have blogs and they are often written by journalists, but not always.  The type of information their blogs offer will vary, but there is usually some element of opinion in a blog post. You'll need to consider this alongside the type of information offered.

How does it relate to your topic?

Because magazine and newspaper articles tend to be shorter, you really need to look beyond the title of an article and examine how it can be used.  

  • If it provides statistics, how can they be used to demonstrate or support your points?
  • How close is the writer to the issue or event?  This can affect relevance.  A writer writing about personal experiences with an issue is a better source than one writing as an outsider.  
  • If they interview a person, how close to the event or issue is the person being interviewed?
  • If it provides background information, is there enough to be useful to your work?
  • How would a person's opinion fit within your paper?  What makes that person's opinion valuable or relevant to the topic?  What is their expertise with it?

Check out the video below for more information on finding relevant sources.

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