Ad Spot

Can You Believe It? How to vet a news source

This is part of “Can You Believe It?” a series of stories and resources focused on giving you the tools to fight disinformation heading into Election 2020. You can find more resources here. What have you been seeing? Share here.

By Cody Nelson

This is part of “Can You Believe It?” a series of stories and resources focused on giving you the tools to fight disinformation heading into Election 2020. You can find more resources here. What have you been seeing? Share here.

Anyone who’s the tiniest bit tech-savvy can buy a dot-com domain, build a website that looks like a news organization and post fake news.

Then, they can get a Facebook or Twitter account and use those platforms to spread their message to, potentially, millions of real humans.

How’s a person to cope? Start by asking these five questions of every site you read:

Does the site have writers?

Questionable news sites often use anonymous writers or writers who use pseudonyms. Sometimes, stories have no byline at all. Legitimate news sources rely on accountability, which isn’t possible without a real name.

Can you contact the publication?

If there’s no phone number, address or email attached to a site, it’s likely to be a fraud. Good newsrooms will be accountable to their audience and give ways to contact them.

Some credible news sources, like NPR, have an ombudsman or public editor. Their job is to field and respond to criticism about the news outlet’s approach to reporting. Others will at least have a way to contact the newsroom.

How does the site make money?

Knowing who’s paying for a publication can tell you who it’s accountable to.

Nonprofit media companies like American Public Media, of which MPR News is a part, must disclose their financials annually in a public tax document called a Form 990. Reputable nonprofit news sources will also disclose contributions, grants and corporate sponsorships in annual reports.

Commercial media will show its funding source in the form of advertising. There will be a clear way to inquire about purchasing advertising, like the link on the St. Paul Pioneer Press homepage.

If it’s not evident how the news source makes money, that’s a red flag.

Consider Alpha News — a website that appears to be an online, Minnesota-based local news source. But, as MPR News uncovered in 2015, it’s tied to a prominent Republican donor and his political group.

Does the site have a mission statement or ‘about’ section?

News organizations should explain why they exist. Do they report news? Opinion? A mix of both?

MinnPost’s “About Us” page outlines the types of stories it does, its reporters’ ethical standards and how it accepts commentary pieces. It also discloses major funders and donor statistics.

How does it get information?

Real news sites publish stories that include quotes attributed to real people, cite a variety of sources and stay clear of aggregated news.


Keeping students in the classroom


Ex-cop appeals murder conviction to Minnesota Supreme Court


Third US vaccine could raise question: Which shots are best?


Cumulative Mower County COVID cases surpasses 4K

Mower County

MC Historical Society will hold its annual meeting virtually on March 18


Helping get the word out


Biden surveys Texas weather damage, thanks emergency workers


Congress split on US strikes in Syria on Iran-backed militia

Crime, Courts & Emergencies

Predatory offender receives additional sexual assault charges


Front-line food plant workers up next for COVID-19 vaccine


Projected $1.6B surplus shoves aside deficit

Breaking News

Breaking News: Police investigating Austin woman’s death after finding “suspicious” injury


House to vote on virus bill; arbiter says wage hike a no-go


Kramer Honored As Best-In-State Wealth Advisor by Forbes magazine


State to vaccinate 70% of seniors before expanding vaccine eligibility

Health Updates

Amid COVID-19 pandemic, flu has disappeared in the US


GOP rallies solidly against Democrats’ virus relief package

Mower County

AU: ‘Austin residents will be affected by increase in natural gas prices’

Local Government

Mower County awards $773K in business relief grants


Mower County CEO Program drive-in fundraiser to be held this weekend


February spike expected in Minnesotans’ home heating bills


FFA Spotlight: Ag world celebrates National FFA Week

Mower County

The American Legion helps get National Personnel Records Center to reopen

Mower County

In Your Community: Nachos for Animals