News Literacy: From the Classroom To The Newsroom
Media literacy -- it’s a topic you’re hearing raised everywhere, from the classroom to the newsroom.
Media literacy is the ability to critically evaluate various forms of media, including television, movies, advertisements, news articles, social media posts and other digital content. But, as my friend and digital fortune teller Bob Garfield sees it, it’s a skill that young people are dangerously missing from their educational diet.
It involves understanding how media is created, who creates it, and for what purpose. Media literacy also involves recognizing biases and stereotypes in media content and being able to interpret messages accurately. Bob has a list of perpetrators at fault for this missing piece of basic education, which I’ll let you read for yourself on his blog Bully Pulpit, here.
And here are his three proposed solutions that he argues must be embraced by mainstream education:
LEVEL 1 "Be skeptical"
- Where did this content come from?
- Who is that person or organization?
- Is it professional and credible?
- Is it allied with a political or ideological viewpoint?
- Have you ever heard of it? And, if not, have you Googled it? Does this URL pass the smell test?
- Is this news or content an outlier, or is it reported elsewhere by reputable sources?
- Is this headline and content designed just to provoke a click and the ad revenue that goes with it? Or does the information have intrinsic worth?
LEVEL 2 “The flawed counterargument"
- Do I know how credible information is gathered and the process behind credible publishing?
- Are subjects dictated by fat-cat publishers?
- Are they dictated by omnipotent editors flogging an agenda?
- Do publications follow the marching orders of some outside third party?
- Are those shadowy anonymous sources invented by reporters to support a preferred narrative?
- Is there a set of standard journalistic practices for confirming facts, qualifying sources, providing evidence and immediately correcting errors?
- Do politically and ideologically funded and motivated players wrapping themselves in the audiovisual trappings of genuine news organizations adhere to those standards?
- When politicians respond to criticism not by furnishing factors, evidence, or reasoned counterarguments but by declaring “fake news,” are they lying?
LEVEL 3 “The source of facts”
- Are assertions backed up — or challenged — by data, official records, history or other documented evidence in complete context?
- Is the audience given the sense of the sources’ motives in saying what they say?
- Is the reporter following the herd of other reporting offering conventional wisdom provided with little scrutiny?
- Are there signs that the elements of the story are the fruit of impartial inquiry, or do the elements seem cherry-picked to support a beginning hypothesis or narrative?
- Is there evidence of bias toward controversy, versus less provocative but more substantive information?
- Does the reporting fully contextualize statements and events to permit the audience to evaluate significance, history, and meaning?
I like Bob’s framework as much for the questions it raises as the answers it provides. What is news today? Is it one thing or increasingly many things? Can someone who’s got strong feelings, writes with a point of view, and is transparent about those alignments and allegiance be a journalist?
I spent a good deal of time this week researching how news is presented on TikTok, using the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio as my lens. I’ll write more about it in the weeks ahead, but for now, suffice it to say there is tons of content on this subject, from a wide variety of sources and perspectives. But I’m not sure any of them would pass Bob’s media literacy tests.
So how do we teach media literacy without a first conversation about the changing nature of news?