Do you have to write a paper about a controversial public issue? Maybe you have to take one side or the other in your paper or in a classroom debate. Or perhaps you are just interested in understanding the issue better so that you can discuss it with friends or make up your mind to sign or not sign a petition. If any of these apply, the following guide can help you!
Look for your topic in a recent issue of Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. The Enoch Pratt Free Library Periodicals Department carries this guide as well as most of the magazines indexed in it.
The Library also subscribes to several research databases, which contain the easily searchable full-text of magazine and journal articles. These will likely prove helpful as well.
While researching your issue, you will find Web sites and magazines that come from various positions along the political spectrum. In evaluating information from these sources, the "follow the money" rule is always helpful. Where do the funds to produce the Web site or magazine come from? Knowing the source of funding will tell you a lot about the perspective which underlies the information. Just because you find something in print, don't assume that it is "objective" or true.
An inherent media bias is the presentation of controversy. Controversy is interesting and brings in revenue. Some media sources will try to appear balanced by presenting both sides of a bogus controversy, when in actuality the weight of scientific evidence and expert opinion falls solidly on one side or the other.
Beware of using only information from Web sites and magazines having perspectives with which you already agree. If you choose to read about your topic in a liberal journal of opinion, pull a conservative one off the shelf and give it a read as well. There are several Web sites and magazines, including CQ Researcher, Congressional Digest, and publicagenda.org, which provide multiple perspectives. If you are arguing for a particular position, you should at least know how the other side thinks so that you can respond to their arguments.
There are several Web Sites that fact-check political statements made by politicians and public figures. PolitiFact, from the St Petersburg Times, allows you to search its "truth-o-meter" by topic. Factcheck.org from the Annenberg Public Policy Center is also a good fact-checking Web site.
Put your issue in context by finding out what is happening in the world of politics. Is there legislation relating to your topic moving through Congress at the present time? What is the background of your issue? Google News Archive will arrange news stories on your topic from a variety of sources into a timeline so that you can follow the progression of the issue.
The easily searchable full-text of several national newspapers over the last few years can also be found in the Library's research databases.