Breaking Bad News

Understanding the difference between the good and the bad and not being betrayed by the unbalanced when it comes to commentary.

Breaking Bad News

Editors Note: Be still my opinionated heart, because Alison Dagnes returns with a contributing article. She's a Professor of Political Science at Shippensburg University and an author of books on the topic. If Alison seems witty, it's because she is currently on drugs while she recovers from a major injury from a curtain-hanging incident.

How Do You Know The Difference?

Contributor Articles

With all the reporting, news content, and commentary out there, many of us struggle to separate the fake from the fair. If you’re like me, it is a part-time job to parse the balanced, the breaking, and the bad.

Well, I’ve got good news. And bad news, but let’s start with the positives. The good news is that we now have an abundance of media options from which to choose our news, entertainment, and social connections. We are rich with content, and some of it is fabulous.

The bad news is that there are too many media options, which can be paralyzing when we try to find something to watch, stream, listen to, or read. More bad news: some of the content out there is total dreck. Even worse, some is riddled with lies, misinformation, and downright dangerous garbage.

It is time consuming to find quality entertainment and tricky to find actual “good news.” By this, I do not mean finding stories that make us happy but news and political information that is legit.

This begs the question: what, exactly, is “legit?” And when is it so legit we simply cannot be convinced to quit?

To me, quality news has to be well-sourced, fact-checked, and balanced journalism. I am frequently asked the question: Where can we find this “good” news because, with so many options, it feels overwhelming? Fret not! I am here to help. The doctor is in.

I have carefully constructed a 3-step program and guide for those looking for the kind of quality news that informs instead of entertains and provides context instead of controversy.  The Dag Dawg Method (patent pending) demands introspection and action, but at the end of it, you will have the tools to go find all the legit news and political information right in time for the 2024 elections. Grab a pencil, and away we go!

Step 1: Admitting we have a problem.

Too many choices allow Americans to select and consume news that is chosen, formed, and delivered in a manner to inspire righteous indignation. Confirmation bias is a theory describing the partiality for information that validates existing beliefs, and modern technology affords us media that tell us what we want to hear instead of what we actually need to know. Between cable news channels, podcasts, newsletters, and Substacks, we can find the outlets that serve up the exact political content that makes us feel clever and morally superior to others. Righteous indignation, by the way, is the most wonderful feeling in the world.

But wonderful feelings are normally activated by things that should be consumed in moderation, and the pleasant buzz of moral ire, like the heady kick that comes from beer, cocktails, and nachos, is best achieved in small amounts. Thus, it is healthiest to seek out news and information that is not purposely antagonistic against partisan opponents.

  • Action #1: Step away from the computer and put down the cell phone and remote control.
  • Action #2: Ask yourself, “do I really need to follow this closely? Is George Santos stealing my credit card information? Was Rep. Matt Gaetz correct that Democrats will “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door?” If not, you can walk away because following politics is a choice, not your job.
  • Action #3: To quote the philosophers Public Enemy: “Don’t believe the hype.” These hyperbolic outlets are trying to scare us all into Crazy Gluing our phones to our hands.

Results: Admitting you are hooked on anger is the first step toward understanding the role this polarizing content plays in our current political dysfunction. Falling prey to what the Poli Sci Nerd Herd refers to as “partisan selective exposure” makes us more extreme and less likely to compromise with those with whom we disagree. It also spreads misinformation, and watching information that does not confirm existing beliefs can increase greater fact-based knowledge.

Step 2: Separate Ballers from Bawlers

There is some incredible journalism being done today, AND we have an opinion problem.

The Ballers are the journalists who do incredible research and win awards for their tenacity and clarity (see: David Farenthold, Ed Yong, David Barstow, Susanne Craig).

The Bawlers are the partisans who yell a lot on cable & podcasts and use ALL CAPS in type (see: Ben Shapiro, Joe Scarborough, Steve Bannon, Jeannine Pirro)

The old joke goes that “opinions are like assholes: everyone’s got one.” These days every asshole has an opinion they share on social media, which turns the old joke into an impossible math problem involving exponentiality. As I do for most things, I blame Mark Zuckerberg. People have taken their opinions way too seriously ever since the moment they became convinced that the guy who helped them at Staples was their “friend” and that everyone wanted to hear their thoughts about absolutely everything.

An even larger problem is that we now have a tangle of news and opinion, and it’s tough to tell the difference. We get news and commentary confused because the lines blur constantly:

  • Journalists Give Their Opinions Widely, which goes against one of the important tenets of journalism. We hear from reporters on Twitter, on podcasts, on shows like This Week, Fox News Sunday, Face the Nation, and Meet the Press, and everywhere we know exactly who they like and whom they do not. This leads to the very real critique of media bias and then the less credible accusation of fake news.
  • Some “News” Organizations Feature More Opinion than Journalism. Just because it’s called “InfoWars” doesn’t mean there’s real information there. Most of the cable news prime time lineups consist entirely of punditry, even when “News” is in their channel name. This is confusing for the audiences, and probably purposely so. Colorful storytelling is more interesting than just the facts, even when the stories are complete fiction.

Here are the differences:


Comes in many forms but is not the news.

  • Punditry = A viewpoint from someone paid to give their opinion, be it credible or unsubstantiated, found on cable news, blogs, Substacks, or talk radio. Famous pundits include Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity, Don Lemon, Laura Ingraham, and Rush Limbaugh (RIP).
  • Analysis = An opinionated, ostensibly “expert” assessment of a news event found mostly in online versions of newspapers. Used to be called “Op-Eds,” now leads to arguments about “journalistic punditry,” which isn’t really a thing.
  • Social Media Posts by Your Family Members = these should not be taken with even a grain of salt because salt is either bad for you or it will cure herpes, according to my Uncle Harmon. This is the kind of second-third-hundredth-hand opinion that is not verified or even real, and the reason we now have a QAnon problem in America. Thanks, Uncle Harmon!


Sourced, verified, factual information provided without opinion or bias.

  • Print, Online, Broadcast = Brought to us by journalists who gather the news do so with a series of rules that guide their behavior, including story verification and fact-checking.
  • Anonymous Sources = In general, these should not be concerning since they are only anonymous to the reader. Arguably, the reporters and their editors know who the sources are and have verified their claims with corroboration from other sources.

How Can You Tell It Is Journalism?

Journalism is a very different beast than commentary, and the bottom line comes down to money. It takes money to produce well-sourced, interesting, ground-breaking news, and it costs nothing to have an opinion about it (hat tip to The Lorem Ipsum).

The easiest way to determine if something is journalism is to follow the money. A real journalistic outlet scores its revenue from the legitimacy of its product. In other words, ask: How does the outlet bring in readers or viewers? The real newspapers that make their reputation by breaking stories will lose readership by making things up or by pressing their thumb on the scale. Conversely, the political content outlets that drum up interest by pissing off their audience make their money through outrage. If this is the case, it’s not journalism. If it involves long-form reporting, it probably is.

When a publication is openly commentary or opinion, that doesn't mean it can't provide journalistic value. The question is whether they are a source that can be trusted to practice journalistic integrity, regardless of whether they break the news or summarize it with their take. An outlet like this will go out of its way to be fair or accurate. When a news outlet runs an error, they bend over backward to acknowledge it. When a GOOD news outlet runs an error, they run a ten-page story and a podcast explaining where they went wrong to correct the record.

Conversely, if a political outlet says the Clintons murdered someone and, after a lawsuit, does not apologize (ahem), it’s not news. When an outlet makes a mistake and they run a correction, it is journalism – or at least credible commentary.

Step 3: Trust the Professionals for Valid News

Now that you’re looking inside yourselves and recognizing the kinds of info available, it’s time to hand it over to the pros because you’ve worked hard enough. There are two excellent avenues for outsourcing the media selection decision-making process to the people who are trained, experienced, and (perhaps most importantly) paid to be experts.

First Avenue: Hit the Bias Charts

Biased media is more than just the unseasoned opinion of one person, and two highly respected, well-credentialled organizations rate news and political information outlets for fairness and validity.

  • Ad Fontes Media rates news organizations for original fact reporting and ideological bias. You can sort through TV, podcasts, and online sources to find the most unbiased and trustworthy news and political content:  Interactive Chart | Ad Fontes Media
  • AllSides. If Ad Fontes is too much, check out this easier to read chart that lays out the ideological perspective of the big online outlets (not radio, TV, or audio) from AllSides: Media Bias Chart | AllSides

Some people will doubt the validity of the bias charts themselves, but each site has a good explanation of their methodology for you to plagiarize when you’re explaining trustworthiness to a relative who is convinced that Democrats, Hollywood celebrities, and most Jews are actually lizard people bent on destruction.

Personally, I prefer the term “reptilian humanoid,” and I really only want more civilized customer service in the hospitality sector. Not destruction. But I digress.

Second Avenue: Trust the news services

If you don’t have the time or inclination to be introspective, analytical, and chart literate, here’s a fast and easy way to get straight facts without fear of any kind of ideological or structural bias: Get your news from a news service.

News services are the agencies that gather news stories and distribute them for print or broadcast to outlets that subscribe to the service. Getting a good story from a news service used to require a subscription, but these days you can hit the news service website and help yourself. Here are two:

One thing to be wary of: many websites purport to be unbiased “news services” and are really boloney in disguise. Stick with the knowns, and you’re good to go.

The next time you find yourself scrolling or flipping channels just to get that sweet, juicy feeling of haughty self-satisfaction, check yourself before you wreck yourself and get the truth. It may not be as sweet a feeling, but at least you’ll know that you’re playing with a full deck.

If you have questions or concerns, I’ll be meeting with my fellow reptilians to work on that persnickety customer service problem. Until we meet again, stay newsy!