News Literacy Lesson 3: Establishing the Truth

23 May, 2018

Let's examine the verification process a little closer. Becoming a literate news consumer requires us to be able to identify legitimate journalism. Legitimate journalism seeks truth. But how do we define that truth?

Truthful reporting comes from using facts that can be confirmed. All the details may not be known. But a news story should include the latest version of events based on verified facts.

Truth is a journey that evolves over time. It is not possible for us to read one newspaper on one day and get a complete picture of world events. We must seek out multiple sources: newspapers, magazines, television and – yes – the internet.

In Iran recently, massive street demonstrations took place throughout the country.

When news organizations reported on these events, the evidence was clear. Images of the protests appeared on television, in newspapers and on the internet. Literate news consumers could be certain the demonstrations took place.

But not all evidence is captured on digital equipment. Sometimes evidence comes in the most unreliable form – memory. It is well known that if a police officer interviews 10 witnesses about a crime, he will receive 10 different versions of events. Yet all were witnesses. A journalist seeking the truth should interview as many witnesses as possible in search of the true story.

One of the most exciting developments in the "smart phone age" is the ability to record events as they happen.

In May of 2017 former North Charleston, South Carolina police officer Michael Slager admitted in court to shooting and killing Walter Scott. But two years earlier, Officer Slager stated that Scott, pulled over for a traffic violation, had grabbed for his gun. Many news organizations reported Slager's version of the incident. But the next day, a video emerged clearly showing that Slager was lying. He shot Scott in the back as he ran away. News organizations quickly corrected and updated their earlier reporting.

Verification is the responsibility of both news organizations and journalists. But a literate news consumer also checks often for updates or for corrections in stories because he realizes that sometimes – even journalists make mistakes.

Next, we will examine balance and fairness.

This lesson is based on the News Literacy class at the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University. For more on how to become a news literate citizen, go to


Words in This Story

verification - n. to quickly take and hold (someone or something) with your hand or arms

literate - adj. one who can read, write and understand

consumer - n. one who uses or buys things

journey - n. a trip

multiple - adj. many, more than one or two

grab - v. to quickly take and hold (someone or something) with your hand or arms

emerge - v. to become known or apparent