Learn The Language

Learning this vocabulary is fundamental to us becoming news literate. It can help us understand powerful and complex topics in clear and simple ways.
“A/B headline testing”
This is when news organisation publishes the same article with a different headline to see which one gets the most clicks. After the testing period is over (usually five minutes or so) the version that receives the most clicks is the one that remains published. See also clickbait.
“Advocacy Journalism”
This is factually based journalism whereby a journalist will express their opinion in their reporting and take a side. Some advocacy journalists reject that the more traditional principle of objectivity is possible due to the influence of advertising and other production interference. This is different from propaganda.
“Agenda setting theory”
This suggests that the news tells us both what to think about (through its process of editorial selection) and how to think about it (through framing techniques and news angles).
“Alternative fact”
According to Merriam-Webster, "a fact is generally understood to refer to something with actual existence, or presented as having objective reality." An alternative fact is therefore an alternative or opposite to reality (delusion) or truth (untruth).
“Anchoring effect”
A form of cognitive bias that causes us to give preferential weight to the first piece of information we are presented with. This impacts the effectiveness of corrections or retractions when news organisations have published inaccurate information.
"The angle of a news or feature story is the story's point or theme, most often expressed in the lead of the article. It's the lens through which the writer filters the information he or she has gathered and focuses it to make it meaningful to viewers or readers" (Thought Co).
“Availability bias”
A cognitive bias that creates "a distortion, that arises from the use of information which is most readily available rather than that which is most representative" (Catalogue of Bias). For example, people may recall recent and vivid reports of plane crashes in the news and be afraid to fly, even though the risk of dying in a car accident is more far more likely.
This is included in the ethical guidelines of journalism. It refers to reporters including all perspectives and allocating space to opposing views. See also polarisation and false balance. Balance can also refer to the inclusion of both problems focused, and solutions focused news reporting to provide fair and unbiased coverage that more accurately represents the condition of the world. See also negativity bias and if it bleeds it leads.
This is the act, intentionally or unintentionally, of personal opinions influencing your judgement. It is usually presented as speaking/behaving favourably or unfavourably to a person, event, or thing in an unfair way because of a pre-existing opinion.
“Body bag journalism”
A term coined by Gabr Pressman, it describes the sensationalisation and exploitation of violence and death for news content in an attempt to push up ratings. It has been criticised on being a cheap form of reporting. See also clickbait and negativity bias.
“Breaking news”
"Newly received information about an event that is currently occurring or developing" (Oxford dictionary). Most daily news organisations will often report in this style. It is often a fast-paced style of news that is the opposite to slow journalism.
It is a news format that "is regarded as more serious and less sensational than tabloids" (Oxford dictionary). Compare with tabloid.
“Bystander effect”
"The inhibiting influence of the presence of others on a person's willingness to help someone in need" (Britannica). It describes passive behaviour or a lack of prosocial behaviour, such as extending help, when others are witness to the same emergency or situation in need of assistance.
"the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security" (Oxford Dictionary). It is usually conducted by a system of authority whereby the circulation of information, and its content, is controlled.
this refers to the fast-paced production of news, often for the purpose of appearing on the first page of search engines. This practice can compromise the quality of information as it leads to news organisations publishing more articles than they can successfully verify.
“Circular reporting”
This occurs "when publication A publishes misinformation, publication B reprints it, and publication A then cites B as the source for the information. It’s also considered a form of circular reporting when multiple publications report on the same initial piece of false information, which then appears to another author as having been verified by multiple sources". This explanation is cited to a TEDEd Video, How False News Can Spread.
Content designed to grab your attention through sensational headlines, language, or images to create a strong urge to click on a link to read more. The clicked-on content usually does not live up to the expectation created. It is usually used to increase web traffic or sales rather than to accurately inform. See also yellow journalism.
“Cognitive bias”
The "tendency for the human brain to perceive information through a filter of personal experience and preferences" (What Is). It is a thinking shortcut that allows us to process information quickly and can often interfere with our ability to think accurately and objectively.
"An expression of opinions or offering of explanations about an event or situation" (Oxford Dictionaries). Columnists (i.e commentators) are different from reporters. Reporters are supposed to report objectively, based on facts, as an event happens or shortly after. A columnist provides their perspective on news that has been reported. They will often take a position and express their opinion. This is similar to an editorial, op-ed and opinion piece. 
“Confirmation Bias”
A cognitive bias whereby people tend "to accept information unquestionably when it reinforces some existing belief or attitude" and tend to reject information or evidence that may contradict their pre-existing belief. This explanation is cited to the video, "Defining Confirmation bias". Watch also "Why our brains love fake news", and "5 ways to beat confirmation bias".
“Conspiracy Theory”
"An attempt to explain harmful or tragic events as the result of the actions of a small powerful group. Such explanations reject the accepted narrative surrounding those events" (Britannica). They often increase during times of "widespread anxiety, uncertainty or hardship".
“Constructive journalism”
"Constructive Journalism is a response to the increasing tabloidisation, sensationalism and negativity bias of the news media today" (Constructive Institute). This is a growing field within journalism to provide balance and to assist in crafting a more accurate worldview. See also solutions focused news. Watch A Case for Constructive Journalism.
“Dark Pattern”
This refers to the intentional deceptive design of an interface to be able to lead the user into a behaviour that they otherwise may not have chosen – for example, signing up to a service. It may also refer to the interface being deliberately difficult to be able to carry out your choice of behaviour – for example, closing an account. Watch "What is deceptive design".
A form of negativity bias that describes the tendency to see the past as better than it was, view the present negatively in comparison and expect the future to be worse than it will likely be. It is "often a feeling harboured about the overall state of a county, society, or institution or the world" (The Decision Lab). See also pessimism bias and if it bleeds it leads. It is the opposite of hope.
"A video of a person in which their face or body has been digitally altered so that they appear to be someone else, typically used maliciously or to spread false information". (Oxford Dictionary)
The deliberate spread of intentionally false or inaccurate information. It is often used to "influence public opinion or obscure the truth" (Merriam-Webster). It is different from misinformation.
A new term referring to "the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing" (Merriam-Webster).
“Dunning-Kruger effect”
"A cognitive bias whereby people with limited knowledge or competence in a given intellectual or social domain greatly overestimate their own knowledge or competence in that domain relative to objective criteria or to the performance of their peers or of people in general" (Britannica). For example, we may think we know more about the world than we actually do as a result of consuming the news.
“Echo chamber”
"An environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced, and alternative ideas are not considered". (Oxford dictionary). See also filter bubble and confirmation bias.
"A newspaper article expressing the editor’s opinion on a topical issue" (Oxford dictionary).
“Expectancy theory”
This "suggests that individuals are motivated to perform if the know that their extra performance is recognised by reward" (Vroom, 1964 – Science Direct). Under this theory, knowing the rewards will lead to greater effort being made to achieve them. See benefits of news literacy.
This is "something that has an actual existence; an actual occurrence; a piece of information presented as having an objective reality" (Merriam-Webster). It is a truth that has been untouched by human experience
“Fact checker”
This is someone who checks that all facts of a news article, a written piece, a speech, a video, or image to ensure they are truthful. They can either be someone employed within a news organisation who checks the item before it is published, or it can be someone from a fact checking organisation that does this after it has been published. 
"Fairness means that a journalist should strive for accuracy and truth in reporting, and not slant a story so a reader draws the reporter’s desired conclusion", nor should they favour one viewpoint over another. (ONA Ethics).
“Fake news”
News that is "completely made up, manipulated to resemble credible journalism and attract maximum attention and, with it, advertising revenue. ... But the definition is often expanded to include websites that circulate distorted, decontextualised or dubious information through – for example – clickbaiting headlines that don’t reflect the facts of the story, or undeclared bias" (The Guardian).
“False balance”
This is when journalists present two opposing points of view equally when the evidence involved in supporting those viewpoints is unequal. Evidence may clearly in favour of one viewpoint but in order to meet journalism standards of balance, it will treat the opposing view as equally valid.
“Feel good news”
"Something that is positive, encouraging, uplifting, desirable or the like" (Collins dictionary). They are written with the purpose of eliciting a positive mood. See also puff piece. Not to be confused with solutions journalism
“Filter Bubble”
A term coined by Eli Pariser to describe how the online algorithms provide tailored information to the user based on their previous online behaviour and preferences. It is associated with limiting exposure to different points of view, to narrowing of our perceptions and strengthening polarization and divide. Watch "Beware of online filter bubbles". See also confirmation bias.
“Framing technique”
Framing allows for two organisations to present the same facts differently. Although framing techniques may not alter the facts of reality, they can allow journalists to be flexible with how they interpret these facts, where to place the focus and how to explain it for the sake of creating a good story.
“Gutter journalism”
A derogatory term for sensational news reporting that is shocking in its nature, usually about personal lives and people.
“Hard news”
"Hard’ news is typically used to refer to topics that are usually timely, important, and consequential, such as politics, international affairs and business news" as well as welfare and scientific developments (Digital News Report). See also soft news. There is an implicit assumption that hard news is problems focused in the content it is covering.
This is a short heading at the top of a news article designed to offer a summary for the article or designed to grab the reader’s attention even if it inaccurately summarises the article. See A/B headline testing.
“Hit piece”
"An article, a documentary, etc. that deliberately tries to make somebody/something look bad by presenting information about them that appears to be true and accurate but actually is not" (Oxford Learners dictionary) Opposite of spin.
“If it bleeds it leads”
This refers to the selection and prioritisation of negative news content within news organisations. See also negativity bias.
This refers to a news media that is not influenced or controlled by other people, corporations, or government. They are free to make their own editorial decisions and pursue stories that they see fit. It can often be seen to protect democracy. It is the opposite of state-run press.
This is a blend of information and epidemic. It describes "an excessive amount of information about a problem that is typically unreliable, spreads rapidly, and makes a solution more difficult to achieve" (Oxford dictionary). It describes our news media diet where we are both oversupplied and underinformed.
“Information overload”
The excess of information made available that ultimately hinders, rather than helps, someone make a decision or take action. With regards to the news, it creates an environment where we are both oversupplied and under informed. 
“Investigative journalism”
This is a critical and in-depth form of journalism. It is often original in its sourcing, which includes both public and private documents or information. It usually takes more time and resources than other types of journalism. It is most associated with exposing hidden information of those in a position of power. However, it is not exclusive to this function. (Cambridge dictionary). Not to be confused with conspiracy theory.
"A person who writes news stories or articles for a newspaper or magazine or broadcasts them on radio or television" (Cambridge dictionary). Journalists are usually trained and are supposed to work within a code of ethics. 
“Junk science”
"Faulty scientific information or research, especially when used to advance special interests" (Dictionary).
“Mainstream media”
"Forms of the media, especially traditional forms such as newspapers, television, and radio rather than the internet, that influence large numbers of people and are likely to represent generally accepted beliefs and opinions" (Cambridge Dictionary)
This is false information spread by a person who believes it to be true. This is not the same as disinformation.
“Native Advertising”
This is advertising that camouflages itself to look like a news story. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as "Material in an online publication which resembles the publication’s editorial but is paid for by an advertiser and intended to promote the advertiser’s product". Watch "Native Advertising: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver".
“Negative deviation”
Reporting on the unusual. It is a story, action or event that negatively deviates from the normal trend. It is typically associated with problems focused news reporting. See also negativity bias.
“Negativity bias”
This is the tendency to give disproportionate attention to negative stories and consider them more newsworthy than to neutral or solutions stories. It is casually referred to within the industry as "if it bleeds it leads". It can lead people to overestimate the problems we face and can cause declinism. It can cause a distorted picture of the world whereby people often think it is worse than it is. See availability theory.
The publishing of new and notable information through public broadcasts with the purpose of engaging and informing citizens in a way that empowers them to be able to act on the information presented.
“News value”
"News values are general guidelines or criteria which determine how much prominence a media outlet gives a news story" (Owenspencer-Thomas). It typically includes timeliness, prominence, proximity, conflict, unusual, current, human interest, and impact.
A term used in George Orwell’s novel, "1984", to describe a fictional totalitarian state in which they use the deliberate manipulation of language to assert control and "diminish the range of thought". The word is now generally used to describe ambiguous language that is used for political gain/propaganda.
"The room at a newspaper office or a radio or television station where news is received and prepared for printing or broadcasting" (Oxford dictionary).
It is the idea that a news story should be reported and shared in a way that is free from interference, personal opinion and bias. It is an ideal that some consider cannot be practically achieved. See also Transparency.
It is a newspaper page, or a web page, dedicated to feature articles, opinion pieces or commentary. It is called this as it is usually placed opposite the editorial page.
"A view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact of knowledge.
“Opinion Piece”
"An article in which the writer expresses their personal opinion, typically one which is controversial or provocative, about a particular issue or item of news." (Oxford Dictionary).
A belief that the future can be better than the past. Not that it will be, but that it can be. Not to be confused with unrealistic optimism or wishful thinking.
“Optimism bias”
A future oriented cognitive bias that "refers to our tendency to overestimate our likelihood of experiencing positive events and underestimate our likelihood of experiencing negative events" (The Decision Lab). It can also be labelled as "unrealistic optimism".
“Pessimism bias”
A future oriented cognitive bias that refers to the "tendency to overestimate the likelihood of negative events and underestimate the likelihood of positive events" (The Decision Lab). This negativity bias in the news can lead to a pessimism bias within consumers whereby they believe the world and its future may be worse than the reality. It is the opposite of an optimism bias.
"The act of diving something, especially something that contains different people or opinions, into two completely opposing groups" (Cambridge dictionary). The news, in its appeal for balance, will often take two opposing viewpoints, it can cause readers to pick a side as there is little often in common between the two. See also false balance.
“Positive deviation”
Reporting on the unusual. It is a story, action or event that positively deviates from the normal trend. It is typically associated with solutions focused news reporting.
"Circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief" (Oxford dictionary).
“Press Release (PR)”
"The set of techniques and strategies related to managing how information about an individual or company is disseminated to the public, and especially the media" (Investopedia). It’s primary goal is to promote a positive image of an individual or company. It is not to be confused with solutions journalism.
“Problems focused news”
This type of journalism typically will cover war, conflict corruption, terrorism, disease, scandal, murder, famine, and natural disasters. It will most often report from a perspective of failure. This type of journalism is often considered most newsworthy. See also if it bleeds it leads and negativity bias.
"Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view" (Oxford Dictionary). It is usually created and spread to "help or harm a person, group, movement, institution or nation" (Centre for News Literacy). Propaganda is often associated with a lack of democracy and with censorship. This is different from advocacy journalism.
"Falsely or mistakenly claimed or regarded as being based on scientific method" (Oxford dictionary).
“Puff piece”
"An article or story in the media that is excessively complimentary about a person, product, event, etc" (Oxford dictionary). Not to be confused with solutions journalism.
"In broadcast journalism, material before it has been processed, especially edited. (1) Raw footage is the original sound and vision of a television report before being edited or additional sounds, captions etc are added. (2) Raw feed is this footage transmitted from location to the base studio or to other television stations, where it will be processed" (The News Manual). It will then be processed into a news story.
"Information or a story that is passed from person to person but has not been proven to be true" (Merriam-Webster). A "rumour mill" is defined as "the source of rumours, especially those that seem to be deliberately passed along" (Dictionary.com). It is a form of circular journalism.
"The act by newspapers, television, etc. of presenting information in a way that is [meant to] be shocking or exciting" (Cambridge Dictionary). 
“Slow journalism”
It is a reactive movement to the problems associated with breaking news and churnalism. It allows time for research and provides space to write in depth and explore complexities of an issue to aid understanding of events rather than to simply provide knowledge of events. Read, "What is Slow Journalism".
“Social contagion”
"The spread of behaviors, attitudes, and affect through crowds and other types of social aggregates from one member to another" (American Psychology Association). It is usually displayed by mimicking another’s behaviour, position, attitude, or mood via exposure. The news can be a vehicle for this.
“Social Contagion theory”
This is "the spread of behaviors, attitudes, and affect through crowds… from one member to another" (APA Dictionary of Psychology). It describes the way in which people are influenced by, and even mimick, others through exposure. The process is often unconscious and is likened to the spread of diseases and, in the case of the news and other information platforms, communications acts as the carrier.
“Soft news”
This type of news usually focuses on human interest stories and entertainment. It lacks urgency and tends to report on more inconsequential events that do not affect the lives of many. See also hard news.
“Solutions focused news”
Rigorous journalism that reports critically on tangible progress being made in order for readers to understand how issues are being dealt with. Critically, this type of news relies on a thorough understanding of the problem in order to successfully investigate the solutions. It tends to follow a slow news format. It will typically include reports of progress, development, innovation, scientific developments, peace building, and positive deviations to social problems. It is not to be confused with soft news (which is relatively inconsequential) , feel good news (which is light hearted and celebratory in tone), or PR (which has an agenda for you to look positively on an issue) or spin . It is similar to constructive journalism. Watch an explainer interview.
"Sources are an important part of writing a story. Sources help journalists gain knowledge about events, people, places and trends. Sourcing information also helps journalists build trust with the public" (Centre for Ethics in Journalism).
This is the twisting of the truth to be represented in a biased way towards an agenda. The agenda is often to make things look better than they actually are. Not to be confused with solutions journalism.
“Sponsored content”
"Material in an online publication which resembles the publication's editorial content but is paid for by an advertiser and intended to promote the advertiser's product" (Oxford Dictionaries). See also native advertising. Watch "Sponsored Content – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver".
“State run press”
"Any network that is more interested in protecting political administrations then actually reporting the real news. They will often decline to report any bad things these administrations do in order to make them look better they actually are" (Urban dictionary). See also Propaganda.
“Story arc”
It is the process of plotting a story from the from the raw data. "it is the line that the story follows, from beginning to end, is called an "arc" because of the rising, peak, and falling action. It runs from the beginning, through the middle, to the end of a story" (Self-Publishing School).
"Typically popular in style and dominated by sensational stories" (Oxford dictionary). It is considered to be a lower quality of journalism that offers less serious stories than other news organisations. Compare with broadsheet.
“The backfire effect”
A cognitive bias that causes someone to reject evidence that does not support their existing beliefs. In doing so, it strengthens their existing belief. It is a subtype of confirmation bias. It explains why debunking misinformation can be ineffective. Watch "Backfire Effect: My Mind’s Made Up"
“The framing effect”
A cognitive bias that occurs "when our decisions are influenced by the way information is presented" (The Decision Lab). Equivalent information can be more or less attractive depending on what features are highlighted. Journalists may use framing techniques to exploit this bias by making information more attractive to consumers.
This refers to making explicit the editorial decisions behind the selection, curation, and production of stories they publish. "Transparency gives the reader information by which she can undo some of the unintended effects of the ever-present biases. Transparency brings us to reliability the way objectivity used to" (Medium – The Engaged Journalism Lab).
“Trust Chain”
A method used by journalists to ensure that every stage in reporting, producing and distributing news about an event or issue is accurate and reliable from beginning to end (The News Manual).
“Wishful thinking”
An undoubted belief that everything will go well despite a lack of evidence, or even in spite of evidence to the contrary. It is criticised for the reckless behaviour it invokes. For example, people who smoke may have an unrealistic sense of optimism about the state of their health despite the evidence suggesting otherwise.
“Yellow journalism”
An old-fashioned term that relates to the efforts to sensationalise news in an attempt to attract readers and increase sales. See also clickbait.
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