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Simpson Library | Special Collections

Information Evaluation: Evaluating News Quality

Journalism & Ethics

Founded in 1909, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has a code of ethics that journalists are encouraged to honor. While not every news outlet may adhere to this code, there is an expectation that mainstream news organizations will follow these ethical guidelines.

SPJ members "believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity." According to the SPJ, the four principals of ethical journalism are:

1. Seek Truth and Report It: Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

2. Minimize Harm: Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.

3. Act Independently:The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.

4. Be Accountable and Transparent: Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public.

(source: Society of Professional Journalists)



Information Neighborhoods

Consider where your information falls on this chart:

(Source: Center For News Literacy)

For Your Consideration: Otero News Chart

In December 2016, Vanessa Otero, a patent attorney, created a chart for evaluating bias and quality of news sources. While her chart is not meant to be comprehensive, it does provide a tool for considering where a particular news source might fall on the spectrum she provides. Here is what Otero had to say about her chart (you can read her entire post here):

"Remember that journalism is a professional and academic field with a set of agreed-upon standards. People get degrees in it and people who are really good at it get jobs in it at good organizations. Peer review helps ensure mainstream sources adhere to standards; if a story doesn’t meet those standards, other news outlets report on that. Not believing the mainstream media just because it is mainstream is like not believing a mainstream doctor or a mainstream lawyer. Sure, you should question and rate the quality of what the newspaper, doctor, or lawyer says, but you shouldn’t dismiss them out of hand because the paper is big, the doctor works at a hospital, or the lawyer works at a firm."

Otero's Assumptions:

  • The less blatantly partisan the source is, the more accurate it is.
  • Recognition that individual reporters, even at the most reputable news sources, have their own personal biases and opinions. The rankings are an overall ranking of each site.
  • “Sensational” means the article have titles like “So and so DESTROYS so and so with THIS response!”
  • “Clickbait” means the articles have titles like “She walked into a meeting. What happened next will shock you!”
  • “Conspiracy theories” means crap that is just made up. Like National Enquirer type stories.


This guide is based on the work of Mike FitzGerald, Los Angeles Valley College Library, which can be found here.

The SIFT Method portion of this guide was adapted from "Check, Please!" (Caulfield). The canonical version of Check, Please! exists at (CC-BY). As the authors of the original version have not reviewed any other copy's modifications, the text of any site not arrived at through the above link should not be sourced to the original authors.