Your uncle posted something on Facebook again.

“Attention! Emotion-grabbing headline here! Don’t bother reading the story—just get angry!”

Is it fake news? Possibly. Your uncle has a tendency to post inaccurate memes and articles. But, as you peruse the article, and its publisher’s fancy-looking website, you wonder: “is this a legitimate source of information?”


It’s at this point that a professional fact checker would follow some simple steps. They would read what trustworthy others have said about the issue/event covered in the article and they would read what trustworthy others have said about the source/publisher. This is called reading laterally. Here are some thoughts about it from Mike Caulfield:

If the publisher of your article in question is The New York Times or The Guardian, well, you’re probably OK (though, of course, you’ll need to pay attention to editorial content). Mike covers that in the video. Those papers have a long history of solid news reporting and their news reporters follow fact-checking procedures when they investigate and write about events or issues.

But what if the news source is the Manchester Journal or the Waxahachie Daily Light? Are those legitimate sources?

You could do a Google Search about them and find some helpful information. It’s important to learn how to search for information about a source in a way that does not include search results from the source itself. Here is a search approach for that: [[]].

For some less-known and/or local sources, a Google Search will turn up good results, often including a Wikipedia panel and page as a top result. Like this:

Those Wikipedia results on the right can be very helpful for learning more about a lesser-known news source (check out Mike’s video about this). But, as Emma Lurie and Eni Mustafaraj found, thousands of news sources listed on the USNPL do not have Wikipedia pages and therefore do not produce those easily accessible Google Search results panels.

Now I know how you might feel about Wikipedia. We’ve all been skeptical of it at times, especially when students cite it as a source in academic papers. It is, however, for the purposes of lateral reading a good place to start. And, as Mike explains in this post, it fills an important data void for people searching for information. But again, what can be done about the many local news sources that don’t have Wikipedia pages?

Enter the Newspapers on Wikipedia project

The Newspapers on Wikipedia project is an initiative founded by Mike Caulfield. The goal of the initiative is to write 1,000 articles on Wikipedia about historic local news sources by the end of this calendar year. People around the world have joined—including a team from Middlebury—to help fill this data void and help make the web a better place for verifying news sources.

The Middlebury team is part of DLINQ’s emerging Information Environmentalism studio. Though the studio itself is in a pilot phase, our goal is to work with students and faculty to de-pollute digital information environments. We do this because we believe that civil engagement in digital spheres supports peace and social justice in our world and that, currently, forces of discrimination, hate, and conflict undermine those goals. To do this work effectively, we must develop skills/strategies, mindsets, and broader ecological (social/political context) awareness that allow us to critically analyze digital pollution (mis/disinformation, polarization, unethical data siphoning and sharing) and enact plans to combat it. The work of this studio directly addresses Middlebury’s strategic direction focused on critical digital fluency.

We see the NOW project to be an essential counteraction to digital pollution on the web. And, there are additional good causes in the world that our work is helping to support. Read about the NOW Charity Challenge here.

Currently, six students (5 undergraduate, 1 graduate; one of the UG students is a friend from another university) and two staff members (Heather Stafford and myself) are working together to contribute to the initiative. We’re writing articles, we’re improving existing pages of local newspapers, and we’re adding info boxes for articles about newspapers that do not already have info boxes (info boxes are those little informational boxes that show up on the right side of a Wikipedia article—and they are what pop up when you do a Google Search if there is a Wikipedia article for your search term).

What have we done so far?

1. We’ve learned a lot about Wikipedia. Learning about Wikipedia–how it works, how to write for it–is an important skill to develop. I was new to writing/editing on Wikipedia and, thanks to others’ (like Heather) expertise, I have learned a lot. It was very cool to see one of our students post great questions about finding appropriate media and information for info boxes and have three different experts pipe in with helpful responses. So. much. learning.
2. We have added info boxes to 19 22 existing newspaper Wikipedia articles. I’m so impressed!
3. We have created 3 11 new pages on Wikipedia for local newspapers. New articles take more time, especially if we want to meet Wikipedia’s notability requirements, but we’re making progress.
4. We have wiki-gnomed 3 15 existing pages for local newspapers. Don’t know what wiki-gnoming is? GO LEARN!

And we’re just getting started! We’ll be working through the summer and we’re planning more work for the fall semester.

Here is what we are planning for the fall

1. Bringing more Middlebury students into this project. This is a great opportunity to learn and do something good in the world. Join us!
2. Working with Middlebury faculty who want to incorporate this project as part of their classes. Wiki Education has partnered with NOW to support curricular integrations for the project. Faculty, email me and Heather and we’ll start planning for the fall!
3. Hosting a fall edit-a-thon on both the Vermont and Monterey campuses to really bolster this work in one big (fun, social, pizza-filled) push. Stay tuned for details. The students on the NOW team will be planning this event.

Ready to join? Interested in learning more? Let us know and we’ll gladly welcome you to this important project.

Also…go collect your uncle.