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Understanding source credibility


Students will learn the basic characteristics of trustworthy news sources. They will be exposed to the journalistic process of source selection and will identify the most credible sources based on qualifying information presented. After reading recent news stories, they will appraise the credibility of sources in major ongoing news stories.


  • Students will list attributes of credible news sources.
  • Students will explain why certain attributes make sources more credible.
  • Students will compare and contrast news sources’ credibility in recent news reports.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.9 Compare and contrast findings presented in a text to those from other sources (including their own experiments), noting when the findings support or contradict previous explanations or accounts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.


50 minutes


Slideshow: Mistaken Identity

Class set: Researching Sources

Pair set: Handouts of recent news articles with a variety of sources (prepare before class, enough for half of class since students will work in pairs)

Computer lab access: 1:2 ratio

Lesson step-by-step

1. Building background — 10 minutes

Today, students are going to learn skills to help them identify credible and trustworthy information in the news media. While many of the tips they’ll learn are meant for online news media, they apply in similar ways to traditional print media. Knowing who to trust as a journalist, and as a news consumer, is essential. If we can’t believe what we read, the whole system of journalism and information media will cease to be relevant.

Remind students of the Asiana Flight 214 that crashed upon landing in San Francisco on July 6, 2013. One of the first reports with details about the crash came from KTVU-TV, a local station that claimed to have the names of the pilots and co-pilots on the flight. Those pilots were identified as (you can write these names on the board):

Capt. Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk, and Bang Ding Ow

Give students a minute to process the names (if they haven’t heard about this story), and then ask what’s obviously wrong with the situation. Answer: the names are fake. Journalists working on the story claimed to have gotten information from a NTSB intern that these names were verifiable. In fact, the names were fake and offensive. Three people were later fired over this mistake.

Ask students what the reporters should have done differently to make sure this turned out differently. Ask questions like:

  • Why should they have trusted or not trusted the intern?
  • What questions could they have asked the intern in order to verify the information?
  • What other sources could they have used to verify these names?

2. An illustrated example — 10 minutes

[Open slideshow]

Consider this package of information from Storify, a news media curation site, that shows what happened when a man named Eric Snowden was mistakenly named as the NSA security leak instead of the actual whistleblower, Edward Snowden.  Eric took it upon himself to compile the Storify thread that shows the many instances of mistaken identity.

Click through the slideshow, and read some of the tweets. Notice how a few people on Twitter started to pick up on the error but that some major media were still getting it wrong.

Once you’re finished clicking through the images, ask students: Can you imagine what the ramifications of this kind of error might be? How might evaluating the sources of information have kept this error from repeating itself over and over again?

3. Types of sources and evaluating sources — 15 minutes

After discussing these questions, continue with the slideshow to review three different types of sources that are often found in the news media. As you review each source, ask for students to think of examples of that type that they recently noticed in the news media. For each source, there is an example, definition, and then relevant questions that a news literacy citizen would ask.

Then, review seven important questions students should ask about sources they find in news media. As you go through the questions, you can relate each one back to the Edward Snowden mistakes, pressing students to think about how to apply those questions to that scenario.

4. Applying evaluation tools activity — 15 minutes

Now, pair students up and pass out a variety of news articles. They can be from your student newspaper, local newspaper, or even national news. Pass out the source activity worksheet. Instruct students that they have the rest of class to finish the activity. Review the findings at the start of next class period.