In this case we use a Google News Search. There's multiple results, but we scan the little "keyword in context" blurbs to find relevant coverage.

We choose the source PRWatch. PRWatch isn't a perfect source — they've been accused at times of having an anti-corporate bias — but in general their reporting is well-sourced.

When we go to that article (or many of the other articles on that page) we find that there is some debate about whether the tobacco-industry funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World should be seen as a research and advocacy organization. Part of that debate centers around its initial funding (it was founded with a large grant from the tobacco industry). But the critique of it from researchers is more subtle than that — they point out that the proportion of money spent on marketing to that spent on research is not indicative of a research organization. And you can see that some of those researchers wrote that in a letter to one of the more prestigious English-language health journals, the Lancet.

Even given all this, you might come to a conclusion that this organization is trustworthy, at least in some limited contexts. Or maybe not. But either way, it's crucial to know about the debate about this organization before you engage with (or share) its materials.

Bias vs. Agenda

The above issue gets at an important distinction when looking at sources. Students often come to media literacy thinking that the primary thing they should be concerned about is bias. And since everyone has some form of bias, that ultimately leads to students thinking no one can really be trusted.

Personal bias has real impacts. But bias isn’t agenda, and it's agenda that should be your primary concern for quick checks.

Bias is about how people see things; agenda is about what a news or research organization is set up to do. A site that clearly marks opinion columns as opinion, employs dozens of fact-checkers, hires professional reporters, and takes care to be transparent about sources, methods, and conflicts of interest is less likely to be driven by political agenda than a site that does not do these things. And this holds true even if the reporters themselves may have personal bias. Good process and good culture goes a long way to mitigating personal bias.

You saw this in the introductory videos on the American College of Pediatricians. The main issue was not that the organization was biased, or even that was small (though this mattered somewhat). The main issue was that it didn't seem to be set up as a research or professional organization. It seemed, in fact, to be set up as a political advocacy organization.

Similarly, in this instance even though the tobacco industry has a long history of deception the researchers are not ruling out that it might be funding some good work. It's possible, even if suspicious.

What they are alleging is that the structure of the organization resembles a marketing organization more than a research organization, and that as such its research should be looked upon with some suspicion.

Again, you need to come to your own conclusion on whether that assessment is damning. But whether you agree with the researchers or not, adopt their approach. Ask first and foremost when approaching an organization or source "What is this group set up to do?"

Next up: Conclusion of lesson three