McManus’ classroom book to focus on detecting misinformation media

SYNOPSIS: John McManustook what he learned in seven years of rating Bay Area news organizations to prepare a book about detecting media misinformation.


John McManus
408-773-8711 (john.mcmanus on Skype)
297 N. Frances St.
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

At a time when any person or corporation with a Web site can publish “news,” and traditional media are experimenting with new forms of journalism and sometimes cutting corners on the old, students need tools to help them separate substance from schlock as well as a BS meter (Bald Sophistry, of course) to recognize partisan bias.

So I’m creating and explaining how to use such tools in a concise digital textbook. The title: “Lead Us Not into Misinformation: How to Detect BS, Bias and Junk Journalism in Print, Broadcast and on the Wild Web.” I’d welcome help in identifying issues I’ve missed or cases that illustrate the problems citizens now face as they try to decode news.

The book, which will be on a DVD so I can use video and audio clips as well as text, draws on my seven years of experience evaluating news quality and ethics at Our task was to do for news in the San Francisco Bay Area what Consumer Reports does for toaster ovens. We rated the most popular local newscasts and newspapers head-to-head across seven yardsticks of journalism quality – from A to F. It also expands parts of my thinking in Market-Driven Journalism: Let the Citizen Beware? (Sage, 1994).

To help you spot gaps, here are the topics I’m focusing on:

    *The problem: how to identify reliable news in an unprecedented period of turmoil in journalism. Why that matters as both a personal and civic matter.

    *The solution — a national civic revival – is beyond the scope of any book. But part of such a renewal is surely guidelines and tools to assist students and other citizens in finding and supporting quality journalism. We need widespread news literacy.

    *The trouble with truth. If truth is the Holy Grail of journalism, how do we separate it from its seductive pretender, falsehood?

    *The individual barriers that journalists and all of us face trying to see the world as accurately as humans can. How we can – and must — assess our own biases before we can look for them in news.

    *The institutional barriers to reporting news that satisfies the demands of a participatory form of government. How to recognize when market forces interfere with the “shoulds” of journalism’s ethical codes to create the most common and destructive kind of bias – commercialism.

    *A replacement (empiricism) for the impossible – and failed — standard of objectivity, and what it demands of anyone doing journalism.

    *Why good journalism should be biased, but only in certain ways (to make it brief enough to be useful, to make it interesting to mass audiences, and for the common good).

    *Creation of a bias detector with different settings for reporting and opinion, for primarily text and image-based media, and for technologies where volume is measured in time (broadcast) vs. space (print, Web).

    *Creation of a system for measuring bias across multiple articles.*Creation of news scorecards to help students and citizens rate news quality (the next generation beyond those at

    *Examples in both print and broadcast illustrating how these tools work.

    The late Steve Chaffee always said social science is a social endeavor. So I’m inviting suggestions and critiques.

    I am self-publishing this book to avoid the excessive prices of commercial text publishers and to retain control over subsequent editions (rather than coming out with a new edition every year to defeat resale by students.) I also plan a printed and digital version of the book for a popular audience.