To be objective means to “not be influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.” From Covid-19 to the Capitol Riot, Americans need objective, fact-based journalism as much as ever to provide clarity on the events of the day, from the latest medical advice, to political debates, to foreign policy. But finding the best, most unbiased news can be a challenge, especially when one considers that more than 10,000 articles are published every day in the U.S. media ecosystem. 

At The Factual, our news-rating algorithm is built to essentially measure how objective (or factual) any news article is based on four straightforward, transparent metrics, each of which answers simple questions:

  • The number and diversity of links and meaningful quotes
    Is the article supported by evidence? Does the article link to a diverse range of sources or just a few? Does the article include direct quotes (i.e., evidence of primary research)? This indicates whether the article is supported by facts.
  • The writing tone
    Is the article written to convey information or to elicit an emotional response? Is the article heavily opinionated or strictly about conveying information? This gets to the core of objectivity — not allowing bias to influence the presentation of facts.
  • The topical expertise of the author
    Has the author written on the topic (e.g., public health, business, foreign policy) before? How have past articles by the author on the same subject scored? This tells us if the author has relevant topical knowledge.
  • The article history of the publishing site
    How have other articles from the same source scored? Are they typically well-researched? This tells us whether the publishing site has a record of producing quality journalism.

The combination of these four metrics gives us a Factual Grade for each article. We consider any article that scores 75% or higher as very likely to be credible — meaning it is well researched, written by an author with relevant topical experience, comes from a publisher that has a history of publishing reputable content, and is likely to be written in a neutral tone. 

To read more about each metric and how they work together, see our How It Works page or watch this YouTube video. Below is an example of what a Factual Grade looks like for an NPR article.

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Example article

Our Study

To establish which news sources are the most objective in the U.S. media ecosystem, The Factual scored a dataset of 828,000 articles from 53 news outlets — the total output of these sources from January 1, 2020 to May 18, 2021, a total of 504 days. By taking the average Factual Grade for each news outlet, we can generate an estimate of which news sources are the most objective on average. For reference, of the 828,000 articles in our dataset, just 17.8% scored 75% or higher, and only 0.4% scored 90% or higher.

Top outlets 2021 (large) (3)

  1. FactCheck.org
    Average Factual Grade: 86.2%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 611  |  Publisher Bias: CenterFactCheck.org is one of the preeminent fact-checking websites and lives up to that reputation by routinely topping The Factual’s lists of most credible sources. Through major events in 2020 and 2021, from Covid-19, to the Capitol Riot, to the presidential election, FactCheck.org has provided extensively researched articles to help readers separate fact from fiction.

    Highest Scoring Article: “Q&A on COVID-19
    Author: Jessica McDonald  |  Factual Grade: 98%

  2. Smithsonian Magazine
    Average Factual Grade: 82.7%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 5,299  |  Publisher Bias: CenterSmithsonian Magazine’s coverage specializes in all things “science, history, art, popular culture, and innovation,” with the backing of the Smithsonian Institution — the world’s largest museum, research, and education complex.

    Highest Scoring Article: “Pottery Shard May Be ‘Missing Link’ in the Alphabet’s Development
    Author: Livia Gershon  |  Factual Grade: 99%

  3. Undark
    Average Factual Grade: 80.9%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 528  |  Publisher Bias: CenterUndark is here to help us understand how science “collides with politics, economics, and culture, and where differing world views compete for resources and influence.” In 2020 and 2021, Undark has been asking important questions about Covid-19, government accountability, and a shifting climate.

    Highest Scoring Article: “For Babies Born Into Addiction, Punishing the Mother Is No Cure
    Author: Elizabeth Brico  |  Factual Grade: 90%

  4. The Conversation
    Average Factual Grade: 76.4%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 4,515  |  Publisher Bias: CenterThe Conversation uses an innovative model that depends on articles written by academics, leveraging the expertise of some of the world’s foremost experts on any topic. The site’s editorial teams then work to ensure content is both accessible and highly informative for a general audience.

    Highest Scoring Article: “5 strategies to prepare now for the next pandemic
    Authors: Tiffany A. Radcliff and Angela Clendenin  |  Factual Grade: 94%

  5. Grist
    Average Factual Grade: 76.0%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 1,292  |  Publisher Bias: Moderate LeftGrist is an independent, non-profit media organization that specializes in climate, sustainability, and social justice. Established in 1999, their work has shined bright over the course of the pandemic and various climate-related disasters, from the wildfires in Australia to record cold temperatures in Texas.

    Highest Scoring Article: “Renewables surpass coal in US energy generation for first time in 130 years
    Author: Oliver Milman  |  Factual Grade: 93%

  6. The Intercept
    Average Factual Grade: 75.3%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 1,673  |  Publisher Bias: LeftThe Intercept seeks to hold the powerful accountable by pursuing changemaking journalism. Among their best articles are investigations of corruption, criminal justice reform, labor rights, and pollution.

    Highest Scoring Article: “Visa Rules Keep Immigrant Doctors From Fighting Coronavirus
    Author: Sharon Lerner  |  Factual Grade: 92%

  7. FiveThirtyEight
    Average Factual Grade: 74.0%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 1,625  |  Publisher Bias: Moderate LeftFiveThirtyEight, best known for its data science journalism, had a busy year in 2020 covering the presidential election. However, they also use “statistical analysis — hard numbers — to tell compelling stories” year-round, from the impacts of Covid-19 to the performances of sports franchises.

    Highest Scoring Article: “How To Make Indoor Air Safer
    Author: Kaliegh Rogers  |  Factual Grade: 92%

  8. Lawfare
    Average Factual Grade: 73.3%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 1,260  |  Publisher Bias: Moderate LeftLawfare, run by the Lawfare Institute and with the backing of the Brookings Institution, is where the study of law and conflict meet. A host of legal and national security experts help the site cover topics like the pending U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the legality of various quarantine orders during the pandemic, and the use of force related to events like the George Floyd protests and the Capitol Riot.

    Highest Scoring Article: “Three Cheers for Paper Hearings
    Authors: William Ford and Margaret L. Taylor  |  Factual Grade: 92%

  9. Politifact
    Average Factual Grade: 73.2%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 2,693  |  Publisher Bias: Moderate LeftPolitifact is a fact-checking group run by the Poynter Institute, one of the country’s preeminent journalism institutions. Politifact specializes in rating the truthfulness of political statements, helping to hold politicians to account and limit misinformation and disinformation, especially during the 2020 election and the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Highest Scoring Article: “Bernie Sanders was the roll call amendment king from 1995 to 2007
    Author: Linda Qiu  |  Factual Grade: 90%

  10. National Geographic
    Average Factual Grade: 72.9%  |  Number of Articles Scored: 1,746  |  Publisher Bias: CenterNational Geographic is a long-running staple of American journalism, covering science, culture, geography, and history. During the pandemic, it has served as a trusted voice on scientific issues, from the basic science of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to the latest discoveries in space.

    Highest Scoring Article: “Moderna’s mRNA vaccine reaches its final phase. Here’s how it works.
    Author: Nsikan Akpan  |  Factual Grade: 93%

How Did Everyone Else Score?

Below is a list of all publishers in our dataset. Our dataset is not a complete representation of the U.S. media ecosystem, in part due to the computing power needed to analyze the output of sites on a daily frequency. This dataset was only based on those sources for which we had data over the entire time period. However, the data does capture many major U.S. news outlets.

There are several reasons why certain sites may score lower than you would expect. For example, articles that do not always have attributable authors (e.g., Reuters) will score less well because we can’t be sure who is writing them. Likewise, some sites (e.g., CNN) only link to other articles on their site and therefore score less well because readers can’t easily verify facts from outside sources. In these instances, our algorithm is indicating that the content may warrant more scrutiny from the reader.

Publisher

Average Factual Grade

Number of Articles

FactCheck

86.2%

611

Smithsonian Magazine

82.7%

5,299

Undark

80.9%

528

The Conversation

76.4%

4,515

Grist

76.0%

1,292

The Intercept

75.3%

1,673

FiveThirtyEight

74.0%

1,625

Lawfare Blog

73.3%

1,260

Politifact

73.2%

2,693

National Geographic

72.9%

1,746

Vox

72.4%

8,023

ABC News

72.0%

9,690

CNBC

71.5%

28,669

Propublica

71.4%

1,241

New Republic

71.0%

2,392

Business Insider

70.7%

15,070

Science Magazine

70.4%

1,028

Washington Examiner

69.6%

28,511

Reason

69.0%

5,901

New York Times

68.4%

56,994

MarketWatch

67.6%

4,100

The Nation

67.4%

3,091

NPR

67.2%

14,523

Wired Magazine

67.2%

5,107

CBS News

67.2%

20,728

Mother Jones

66.9%

4,021

LA Times

66.9%

29,519

The Atlantic

66.7%

5,358

Washington Post

66.1%

50,928

TechCrunch

66.0%

13,723

BBC

65.7%

14,242

Daily Beast

65.6%

11,053

Politico

65.5%

10,058

Quillette

65.1%

689

The Guardian

65.1%

61,470

Cato Institute

64.3%

668

New Yorker

63.0%

4,040

Reuters

62.9%

41,684

USA Today

62.6%

31,566

Real Clear Politics

62.3%

1,743

Wall Street Journal

61.9%

12,132

Financial Times

60.3%

19,532

Voice of America

58.8%

8,169

The American Conservative

57.8%

2,696

Popular Science

56.7%

924

Fox News

55.3%

64,122

The Federalist

55.3%

5,920

Al Jazeera

54.3%

16,600

CNN

53.6%

47,199

Breitbart

52.8%

42,764

National Review

52.4%

8,126

Washington Times

50.3%

73,068

Forbes

49.3%

19,673

 


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Published by Phillip Meylan

Phillip is a writer, researcher, and editor. He is a contributor to FP Analytics, Foreign Policy's research and advisory division, and an adjuct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. During Covid-19, he has spent time enjoying the great outdoors, reading, and watching soccer.