Special Report: The U.S. Best and Worst of 2021

With misinformation booming, we’ve identified some of the year’s most popular misinformation sites — and some high-quality news sites you can trust

by Matt Skibinski Published 12/29/2021

The real-world impact of misinformation — and the importance of quality journalism — were never more apparent than in the past year. As much of the world raced to vaccinate its citizens against COVID-19, the internet and social media feeds were flooded with false, misleading, and unproven claims that questioned the vaccines’ safety and promoted unproven cures. And in the wake of a divisive and close U.S. presidential election, false claims about election fraud threatened to undermine Americans’ faith in democracy – and helped spark the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Throughout the year, NewsGuard has been tracking thousands of misinformation websites spreading false claims — as well as trusted news sites, some of them often overlooked— that consistently publish accurate, high-quality news.

In this report, we identify the misinformation websites with the most online engagement in 2021 in the United States. We also highlight a selection of the trustworthy sites that are producing reliable journalism, including for local and niche markets.

The Ten Most Influential Misinformers

NewsGuard awards websites a score from 0 to 100, depending on how many of NewsGuard’s nine credibility and transparency criteria (weighted in order of importance) the site meets. A site scoring below a 60 earns a Red, or generally unreliable, rating.

Of course, some unreliable sites have more of an impact than others because they reach a much wider audience. In this list, we have identified the least credible sites — meaning those that fail NewsGuard’s criteria for repeatedly sharing false content — that garnered the most social media engagement in 2021, according to internet metrics firm NewsWhip, starting with the site with the most engagement. These websites have a record of routinely publishing falsehoods and, in most cases, declining to disclose to readers who owns the site and creates its content.

  1. NewsMax.com
    A site that covers politics, culture, and health, and airs videos from its cable TV network. Newsmax has published false and unsubstantiated claims about vaccines and COVID-19.
  2. TheGatewayPundit.com
    A partisan conservative website that regularly publishes hoaxes and false and unsubstantiated claims, including about U.S. elections and COVID-19.
  3. TheFederalist.com
    A website that has repeatedly published false or misleading information in significant news and opinion stories.
  4. LiveAction.org
    The website for Live Action, an anti-abortion group that has deceptively edited videos and made unsubstantiated health claims, particularly in articles that target Planned Parenthood.
  5. LifeNews.com
    A website covering abortion legislation and politics that has published false health claims about abortion safety and about COVID-19.
  6. DJHJMedia.com
    A conservative political site run by a Texas entrepreneur that has published false and unproven claims, including about the COVID-19 pandemic.
  7. WayneDupree.com
    The website of conservative radio host Wayne Dupree, which has repeatedly published false and misleading claims, including about the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
  8. WND.com
    A hyper partisan conservative news site that regularly promotes conspiracy theories and publishes false information.
  9. ZeroHedge.com
    A political and financial blog that has a pro-Russia perspective, and frequently publishes false information and conspiracy theories.
  10. ReturnToNow.net
    A website focused on natural remedies and wellness that has made false and unsubstantiated health claims, including about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ten Top “Trustworthy and Trending” Sites

Among the nearly 1,000 sites read by audiences in the United States that earned a perfect 100 score from NewsGuard this year, these 10 received the most social media engagement, with the most widely shared at number one. This list includes a wide range of sites, including a national newspaper, a weekly magazine, and three local sites.

  1. NBCNews.com
    The website of NBC News, an American broadcaster that publishes global news, original digital content, and clips from its network news shows.
  2. NYTimes.com
    The website of a New York-based news organization with a network of journalists worldwide whose coverage exerts significant influence on national and international news and on public debate.
  3. WashingtonPost.com
    The website for The Washington Post, a leading daily newspaper owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, publishing local, national, and international news and in-depth analysis.
  4. NPR.org
    The website for National Public Radio (NPR), the Washington-based producer of news programs distributed to over 1,000 public radio stations in the United States.
  5. USAToday.com
    The website for USA Today, a national newspaper that is one of the most widely read dailies in the United States. The website publishes global news and local stories from Gannett-owned newspapers.
  6. BusinessInsider.com
    A website covering business and political news that is part of the larger Insider news brand.
  7. Forbes.com
    The website of the American business magazine Forbes, which is known for its lists of the world’s richest people. Forbes.com links to 28 international editions from its English-language homepage.
  8. Newsweek.com
    The website of Newsweek magazine, a one-time staple of American journalism, that provides coverage of national and international news, business, technology, and culture.
  9. TheGuardian.com
    The website of The Guardian, a daily newspaper based in London known for its left-of-center point of view and investigations into governments, politicians, and companies around the world.
  10. Axios.com
    A news website that frequently publishes exclusive stories about politics, business, and technology. Axios describes its content as “smart brevity.”

Other noteworthy sites that received a perfect 100 NewsGuard score include WSJ.com, the site for the Wall Street Journal, and LATimes.com, the site for the Los Angeles Times.

Hidden Gems

About 15 percent of new sites serving users in the United States rated by NewsGuard receive a perfect score of 100 out of 100 points. The sites on this list all achieved that designation, producing content that is truthful, compelling, credible, and transparent. However, due to their relatively small staffs or the niche topics they cover, they typically receive little social media engagement.

Below, we highlight 10 sites engaging in quality journalism that you may have never heard of. (Unlike the other lists, this is not sorted in order of engagement, as all the sites were selected because they receive relatively little engagement.)

  1. RetractionWatch.com
    A blog and database dedicated to chronicling retractions of articles from scientific journals. The site states that its mission is “tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process.”
  2. DailyMemphian.com
    The website of a nonprofit, online-only news site serving the Memphis, Tennessee, metropolitan area.
  3. PhillyTrib.com
    The website for The Philadelphia Tribune, which was founded in 1884 and is the oldest continuously published African American newspaper in the United States.
  4. MinnPost.com
    An online-only news organization in Minneapolis that covers public affairs, policy issues, arts, and sports in Minnesota’s Twin Cities region.
  5. CaliforniaHealthline.org
    The website for California Healthline, a nonprofit news service focused on health care and health policy in California.
  6. Oklahoman.com
    The website of The Oklahoman, a daily newspaper covering Oklahoma City and the surrounding area.
  7. FederalNewsNetwork.com
    The website of Federal News Network, a news radio station that covers U.S. government agencies for a professional audience.
  8. TheBeacon.media
    A nonprofit organization providing in-depth reporting on politics and policy in Kansas and Missouri.
  9. Lookout.co
    The inaugural site of an online-only local news startup, Lookout Local, serving Santa Cruz County, California. Similar sites are planned for other cities, the founder says.
  10. HongKongFP.com
    An independent, nonprofit news site, the Hong Kong Free Press, that covers Hong Kong and developments in mainland China that relate to Hong Kong.

Top 10 Trusted Local News Sites

This past year, local news sources were especially important, as news readers sought out information about local COVID-19 testing and vaccination options, school and business closures, mask requirements, and more. In certain states, local media sources gained a national spotlight after a close presidential election in which vote-counting, audits, and disputes about election integrity lasted for months.

The sites on this list are all focused on local news in the U.S., rated as highly credible by NewsGuard, and among the most highly shared sites in their category.

  1. 11Alive.com
    The website for WXIA, an NBC television affiliate serving the city of Atlanta and the surrounding communities in northwestern Georgia. The site brands itself as 11Alive.
  2. MLive.com
    A site that houses content from eight newspapers covering news throughout Michigan, including the Flint, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids areas.
  3. AJC.com
    The website of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a daily newspaper covering Atlanta and the state of Georgia.
  4. DallasNews.com
    The website of The Dallas Morning News, a daily newspaper that was founded in 1885 and covers the Dallas-Fort Worth area and northern Texas.
  5. KHOU.com
    The website for KHOU 11, a CBS television affiliate based in Houston.
  6. NJ.com
    The website of six New Jersey newspapers, including The Star-Ledger, the state’s largest daily, covering breaking news, politics, business, sports, and entertainment.
  7. ABC15.com
    The website for KNXV-TV, an ABC affiliate serving the city of Phoenix and a large portion of Arizona.
  8. KSAT.com
    The website for KSAT 12, an ABC affiliate serving San Antonio and surrounding communities in south-central Texas.
  9. PennLive.com
    The website for The Patriot-News, which covers Pennsylvania’s capital city of Harrisburg, as well as the surrounding region.
  10. WUSA9.com
    The website for WUSA9, a CBS television affiliate serving the District of Columbia and the surrounding area.

Top 10 Trusted Sites Covering Underrepresented Communities

Even high-quality news sources can miss stories and perspectives that are highly important to specific groups and communities.

The sites on this list all are rated as generally trustworthy by NewsGuard — and all cover communities often overlooked and underrepresented in mainstream media.

  1. ElVocero.com
    The website for El Vocero de Puerto Rico, a free, Spanish-language newspaper covering the United States territory of Puerto Rico.
  2. BlackEnterprise.com
    A website offering business and investment advice aimed at an African-American audience. The site publishes content from Black Enterprise magazine and related TV shows.
  3. BNC.tv
    The website for the Black News Channel cable network, covering news, politics, and entertainment that is aimed at an African American audience.
  4. GayCityNews.com
    The website of Gay City News, a weekly newspaper serving the LGBTQ community in New York City.
  5. AfroTech.com
    A news and information site geared toward Black-owned technology start-ups.
  6. AtlantaBlackStar.com
    A website that covers politics, culture, and general news for an African American audience.
  7. IndianCountryToday.com
    The website of Indian Country Today, a news organization owned by the National Congress of American Indians that covers Native American and indigenous populations in the United States.
  8. BecauseOfThemWeCan.com
    A website covering Black history and culture, with an emphasis on the achievements of contemporary Americans.
  9. NativeNewsOnline.net
    A website that publishes news for and about Native Americans in the United States and Canada.
  10. BlackDoctor.org
    A health news and information website that serves an African American audience.