When it comes down to accuracy, there are a number of national newspapers in most countries that are well-staffed with reporters and have an editorial process that places a premium on accuracy. These papers are sometimes referred to as “newspapers of record”, and are distinguished in two ways:
- They are rigorous, showing attention to detail and having accountability in their editorial processes.
- They have a truly national view, and attempt to be the best possible record of what happened in the nation (not just a region) on a given day.
The United States is considered by some to have at least four national newspapers of record:
- The New York Times
- The Wall Street Journal
- The Los Angeles Times
- The Washington Post
You could add in the Boston Globe, Miami Herald, or Chicago Tribune. Or subtract the LA Times or Washington Post. These lists are meant to be starting points, indicating that a given publication has a greater reputation and reach than, say, the Clinton Daily Item.
Some other English-language newspapers of record:
- The Times (UK)
- The Daily Telegraph (UK)
- The Irish Times (Ireland)
- The Times of India (India)
- New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
- Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
- The Age (Australia)
- The Globe and Mail (Canada)
Does that mean these papers are the arbiters of truth? Nope. Where there are disagreements between these papers and other reputable sources, it could be worth investigating.
As an example, in the run up to the Iraq War, the Knight Ridder news agency was in general a far more reliable news source on issues of faulty intelligence than the New York Times. In fact, reporting from the New York Times back then was particularly bad, and many have pointed to one reporter in particular, Judith Miller, who was far too credulous in repeating information fed to her by war hawks. Had you relied on just the New York Times for your information on these issues, you would have been misinformed.
There is much to be said about failings such as this, and it is certainly the case that high profile failings such as these have eroded faith in the press more generally, and, for some, created the impression that there really is no difference between The New York Times, the Springfield Herald, and your neighbor’s political Facebook page. This is, to say the least, overcompensation. We rely on major papers to tell us the truth, and rely on them allocate resources to investigate and present that truth with an accuracy hard to match on a smaller budget. When they fail, as we saw with Iraq, horrible things can happen. But that is as much a testament to how much we rely on these publications to inform our discourse as it is a statement on their reliability.
A literate fact-checker does not take what is said in newspapers of record as truth. But, likewise, any person who doesn’t recognize the New York Times or Sydney Morning Herald as more than your average newspaper is going to be less than efficient at evaluating information. Learn to recognize the major newspapers in countries whose news you follow to assess information more quickly.
- We're aware that the origin of the term was originally a marketing plan to distinguish the New York Times from its rivals. At the same time it captures an aspiration that is not common across many publications in a country. When I wrote code for Newsbank's Historical Paper Archive we took the idea of Newspapers of Record seriously even on a local level -- with the mess of paper startups and failures in the 1800s understanding what was reliable was key. Which of that multitude of papers was likely to make the best go at covering all matters of local importance? ↵