If changing your news consumption habits was on your list of new year resolutions, might I suggest AllSides? Even though Forbes covered the site back in 2012, it’s a resource with which I’ve only recently become familiar.

Much like Google News and many other large online portals, AllSides operates as a news aggregator. The difference between AllSides and search engines, however, is that AllSides goes a step further in classifying on which side of the political spectrum a story’s publication falls.

In a way, AllSides functions a lot like how NonDoc’s founders envisioned our site operating in the early days. While our initial vision turned out to be too technically demanding and functionally impractical, AllSides nails what transparent and illuminating news aggregation should look like.

Left, Center and Right

From top to bottom, the site’s homepage is divided into four sections: featured story, top stories, feeds and more stories. Perhaps most interesting is the treatment of each day’s featured story, in which three different headlines from left, right and center link to stories from sources who fall within each ideological realm.

For example, today’s featured story concerns Meryl Streep’s statements about POTUS-elect Donald Trump during Sunday night’s Golden Globes. The related left, right and center sources are as follows, respectively: New York Times, Fox News and Politico.

Beneath each article’s blurb (indeed, beneath every article link posted on the site), there’s a simple chart to help gauge the bias of each source. Using the nomenclature LLCRR, the chart posits that there are five positions on which to land in the political spectrum: far-left, left, center, right and far-right.

In the above example concerning Streep, the L second from left labels The NYT story as simply left, while the farthest-right R designates the Fox News story as far-right. Politico is simply marked C for center.

Bias rankings: A mix of opinion and stats

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with AllSides’ bias ratings, the designations aren’t arbitrary. AllSides uses a mix of crowdsourcing and data-crunching algorithms to help determine the bias inherent in a given news source.

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Basically, AllSides readers can submit a survey intended to determine their personal biases. Once a reader’s bias group has been determined, readers then begin ranking the bias of individual articles. An individual reader’s article rankings are then compared against other readers’ ranking within the same bias group. Eventually, the average rankings of several articles from an individual news source will determine which label it will get beneath its headlines.

Bias laid bare

Beyond the concept and execution, the great thing about AllSides is the juxtaposition it creates between headlines from sources across the spectrum. In examining those discrepancies, it becomes clear how journalistic principles like framing and news value drive different outlets in different ways.

For example, headlines concerning Trump’s nominees for cabinet positions from the left, right and center read as follows (respectively) in the site’s second section:

  • Trump confidants serving as presidential advisers could face tangle of potential conflicts (Washington Post)
  • Confirmation Battle Begins on Capitol Hill: What to Expect (CBN)
  • Concern over Trump nominees: Legitimate or just politics? (Christian Science Monitor)

In these three stories about the same subject, different biases become clear. The leftist bias frames Trump’s relationships with his nominees as potentially problematic. While that may be true, it’s a far cry from the rightist bias that tells its readers outright “what to expect.” Meanwhile, the CS Monitor, portrayed as the centrist take, illustrates deference by asking the reader to decide if concern about Trump’s nominees is valid.

So, if you’re looking to round out your news intake but aren’t sure whether you can trust yourself to truly step outside your comfort zone, give AllSides a look every now and then. Perhaps their tagline best sums up our collective news-consumption goals for 2017:

See news and issues from multiple perspectives,
discuss like adults.