Reading Behind the Headlines: Finding Reliable Information in the Post-Truth Era

Partner blog post by librarians Melissa J. and Teresa A.

Distinguishing Fact from Fiction

A few months ago, one of our teen customers came up to our reference desk to say hello and to tell me about a piece of concerning news she read on the internet. The teen told me she read that ICE had thrown a pregnant woman over the wall to prevent her from having a baby on U.S. soil. At first, I felt a wave of shock upon hearing this disturbing information, which was quickly followed by skepticism. I asked the teen where she had obtained this upsetting news and she informed me that she read it on Facebook. This triggered my inner librarian and I immediately turned to the computer to find the article and check its accuracy. With one keyword search on Google, I discovered the photo with the troubling headline was published on “The Onion,” a satirical newspaper. I attempted to explain to the teen that the article was satire, not real news, and we debated about how fake and photoshopped the featured photo was in reality.

This exchange is a prime example of the current issues surrounding our ability, and often inability, to distinguish between real, false or misleading information. While we would like to believe that this is only a problem amongst our teens, we know that even adults can struggle to make this distinction as misleading information has become more sophisticated and purposefully harder to identify. Finding reliable and relevant information from credible sources is a basic building block for being an informed citizen. Yet, the ability to distinguish between credible and misleading information requires an acute attention to detail. To be sure, the devil is in the details.

Consider the following web addresses:




Whitehouse.gov is the official government website for information about the White House and the current administration. Whitehouse.com is a website with a controversial history of featuring adult content (“SITES WE hate,” 2002). It currently features short political news stories and surveys. Finally, whitehouse.org is a parody website. While these websites appear to be very similar, the content they feature is very different. It is easy to see that the slightest variation, which to many people may appear to be an unimportant difference, has a significant impact on the actual content. In many cases, details are key to understanding “where” you are on the internet and, in turn, in distinguishing the credibility of a particular web address. Most web addresses ending in “.com” are related to commercial businesses, web addresses ending in “.gov” are government websites, and those ending in “.org” are generally related to non-profit organizations. Simply knowing these small details about a web address can help lead you to credible and reliable information.

This is true too, when it comes to understanding information. It is important to recognize the origins of the information that is being conveyed. For example, let’s review the misinformation provided by the teen. She believed the article was real because she failed to identify is origins. If she had, she would have realized that the article was meant to be humorous because it was derived from a satirical newspaper. Acknowledging the distinction is very important.

The best advice we can provide is to be skeptical of information obtained online and do additional research. Through our library website customers have access to numerous educational and scholarly resources, many of which, can be accessed from your home computer with internet access, a library card, and pin number. Also, included below are links to various fact-checking websites and additional reading recommendations concerning current information issues. Another option is to ask your local librarian and let them do the work for you. Finally, we encourage you to join us for a special event:

Reading Behind the Headlines: Finding Reliable Information in the Post-Truth Era

September 4, 2018 | 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. | Kent Branch Library

Hear local media specialists discuss the work that goes behind publishing the news and learn about resources you can use to evaluate sources and find reliable information.

This program seeks to help attendees distinguish between credible and unreliable news sources. During the program, attendees will hear from local media specialists who will discuss the work that goes on behind publishing the news. We will also discuss how you can use library resources to evaluate sources and find reliable information.

Blog Post Citations

University of Michigan to Help Citizens Spot Fake News – Michigan Radio (written by Tracy Samilton, published on April 18, 2017)

ICE Agents Hurl Pregnant Immigrant Over Mexican Border to Prevent Birth on U.S. Soil – The Onion (published January 18, 2018)

Did ICE Hurl a Pregnant Woman Over a Border Wall? – Snopes.com (written by Kim LaCapria, published on June 26, 2018)

SITES WE hate – Yahoo! Internet Life (published May 2002, vol. 8, issue 5, page 66)

Fact Checking: Internet Resources

  • Whois.com: Use this website to identify who owns a particular website
  • Allsides.com: Compare how news outlets cover the same topic
  • Opensecrets.org: Track campaign contributions on this nonpartisan website
  • Factcheck.org: Fact check popular stories in the news and on social media
  • Politifact.com: Ranks the truthfulness of claims and statements made by politicians and provides explanations for their ranking
  • Snopes.com: Fact checking news stories
  • Blue Feed, Red Feed: See how different your Facebook Newsfeed can look based on your political leanings
  • Media Bias Fact Check: Explore this site to find out about the bias of the information sources you access.

Additional Reading Recommendations

Related Library Books

Overload : finding the truth in today's deluge of news / Bob Schieffer with H. Andrew Schwartz
Finding Reliable Information Online: Adventures of an Information Sleuth by Leslie F. Stebbins
Research Strategies: Finding your way through the information fog by William Badke
Smart Online Searching: Doing Digital Research by Mary Lindeen

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Podcasts: What are They and Why Should I Care?

I have a confession to make; I can’t stop listening to podcasts. For years now, people have asked me what book I’m reading/listening to and most of the time I shamefully mumble something about not having much time, or finding it difficult to discover new books I like. This, however, is a bold-faced lie. The truth is that podcasts have taken over my life. I listen to them when I’m cleaning, driving, getting ready, falling asleep, waking up, cooking (ok, that’s a stretch – more like microwaving). Just ask my husband who so graciously hid his eye rolls for almost an entire year when every other sentence out of my mouth was “I was listening to This American Life…”

To all of you who are reading this asking, “What’s a podcast?” – my response is: only the greatest invention to be popularized by the smartphone. Imagine being able to listen to your favorite radio broadcast at any time, in any place. Or consuming bite-sized documentaries that are delivered to your phone automatically and captivate from the first minute. And the best part is that anyone (even you!) can make and distribute a podcast, making the range of content available absolutely remarkable. I know what you’re thinking, “But Allison, how do we know what is worth listening to and what’s not if anyone can make anything?” Never fear. That’s what I’m here for.

Below you will find a list of some of the best freely-available podcasts around. They cover a breadth of topics to suit anyone’s interests as well as provide an easy route to discover something new. Most smartphones have a podcast app preloaded on the device at purchase where these titles can be found. They can also be found on the respective websites for each cast.

And once you’ve listened through this list and decided to become a podcaster yourself, come on down to the King Road or West Toledo branch libraries where our recording studios are waiting to turn your podcast idea into my next obsession.

General Interest

This American Life

No list of podcasts would be complete without This American Life. One of the longest running NPR offerings, Ira Glass’s iconic radio show looks at different aspects of life in America (and sometimes beyond) and offers new perspectives on ideas of all kinds. So many people you’ve probably heard of have contributed to TAL including David Sedaris, David Rakoff, Sarah Vowell, John Hodgeman, and many (many, many more). Personal favorites of mine are episodes 107: Trail of Tears and 199: House on Loon Lake.

Listen Alikes:



True Crime


If you’ve heard of any of these, chances are it’s Serial, the smash-hit from 2014 that dove deep into a murder that took place back in 1999. Because it’s unsolved? No. A man named Adnan Syed is currently serving time for the crime. But should he be? Sarah Koenig investigates and tells the story episode by episode, sometimes only hours after she has learned new developments herself. If you want a story that is all but guaranteed to hook you, this is where you should start. (Seriously, before this no one would have guessed that cell phone records could be so enthralling.) This one requires serial listening (Get it? 😉 ) so you’ll want to start with Ep. 1: The Alibi.

Listen Alikes:

In the Dark


Science and Technology


Polar opposites and conversational wizards Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich explore all things science in a way that feels a little closer to performance art than information sharing. From the beautifully haunting contributions of the late Oliver Sacks in episodes such as “Oliver Sacks’ Table of Elements” to episodes like “The Ceremony” that are just plain creepy, Radiolab is a show for those people who are fascinated by the intricacies of the world we live in.

Listen Alikes:

99% Invisible

Every Little Thing

Myth and Folklore


I like to call this “Are You Afraid of the Dark: Adult Edition.” Lore takes true stories that frighten and disturb and turns them into campfire-style tales. Recently made into a TV show as well, it is best if listened to on a long night drive or with the lights dimmed. Fans of The Twilight Zone will appreciate its anthology-style storytelling and the added bonus is that these stories actually happened. Where to start? Ep. 2: The Bloody Pit


Revisionist History

Malcolm Gladwell is very likely a familiar name to you from his best-selling books Blink, The Tipping Point, and What the Dog Saw. In Revisionist History, Gladwell takes all the energy and enthusiasm he has for storytelling and applies it to ideas that we think we already understand. His brand of thinking deeply on topics that seem obvious on their surface works especially well in the podcast format. Check out “Hallelujah,” in which Gladwell examines the idea of genius and how it emerges in individuals.

Radiolab Presents: More Perfect

A podcast about the Supreme Court of the United States? Really? Yup. And it’s even better than you could ever imagine. From tales of its inception to the cases being argued today, More Perfect delves deep into the backstories of the people behind the cases and offers an in-depth view on how the court arrives at its decisions. Personal favorites of mine include “Kittens Kick the Giggly Blue Robot All Summer,” which looks at the very early years of the court while it was still finding its place in our system of law and “The Political Thicket,” in which we see just a glimpse of the pressure that serving on the court entails.

Listen Alike:

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Current Issues


Embedded reporting is a long-standing tradition within the journalism field, but with Embedded (the podcast), Kelly McEvers takes this to the next level. By focusing in on a story currently in the news and placing herself in the center of the action, McEvers provides a unique type of insight into issues that can seem too big to be ever fully understood. In the gripping episode “The Capital,” McEvers ventures to the murder capital of the world, El Salvador, and spends 24 hours in the capital city, San Salvador, where she witnesses first-hand the gang violence that grips the nation. It’s edge-of-your-seat listening and just one example of an overall stellar body of work. Intrigued? – Check out the entire list of casts.

Listen Alikes:

The Daily



30 for 30

What? Think I forgot about you, sports fans? Never. 30 for 30 will be familiar to you as a fan of sports/watcher of ESPN. The TV show has established itself as the most excellent avenue to the behind-the-scenes (off-the-field?) stories of the athletes we love. The jump to podcast was only natural and has only improved the long-form sports story. Whether it’s the tale of Madden and his videogame domination or the fight to open Wrigleyville up to night games, 30 for 30 is a must-listen for any die-hard fans who seek to know more about their favorite teams/players/sports than what you can get from just watching the main event.

Listen Alike:

The Bill Simmons Podcast

If you like the podcasts featured above, you may also like these great radio programs available at your local library …
NPR driveway moments [spoken CD] : radio stories that won't let you go. Moms
NPR driveway moments for dads [spoken CD]
NPR funniest driveway moments [spoken CD]
NPR driveway moments. Love stories. [spoken CD]

Originally posted by Toledo Lucas County Public Library blogger Allison F. at http://www.toledolibrary.org/blog/podcasts-what-are-they-and-why-should-i-care.