In its basic form, media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms. We hear too much banter about “fake news” and fake websites and journalists who are biased. As a communication assistant professor who teaches aspiring journalists, let me first make a few things clear:
1) Unless you’re working for biased media companies (yeah, I’m calling you out, Fox News, but there are liberal biased media companies, as well), most journalists are trained to be unbiased. TRAINED. Doesn’t mean they like a story they’re covering, but it means they have the education to cover it objectively.
2) Additionally, your local news reporters, your local beat reporters, are probably the most unbiased out of the bunch. They’re probably the ones you get the most objective news from.
3) You as a consumer probably don’t wholly understand your own biases. You see something that maintains your viewpoint on the world, and you are more likely to believe it’s true. Unless you understand your own worldview and biases and are willing to go research on your own from time to time, you’re much more likely to believe fake news.
Media illiteracy has become such a worldwide problem that educators are starting to introduce this concept into classrooms. I don’t even have to address the problem we have in America. It’s evident everywhere.
Before we go further, check out this NPR link and game Factitious. See how you score.
Okay, back? How’d you do?
I teach an entire course on media literacy. It’s a trickier concept that you might think, but, if you are willing and interested in becoming more media literate, here are three tips to help you get started (and signing up for my class can be the fourth one):
1) What are they selling?
Everything you see in the media is selling something, and it may not be for a monetary value. Is it your vote? Is it your action? Is it your opinion? Ads are easy, but TV shows, columns and editorials, photos – everyone is trying to make you pay attention. If they’ve got your focus, you need to ask yourself why.
2) Who is profiting?
Which big media outlet is profiting? What politician is profiting? What happens if you believe/say/buy/vote a certain way? What does that company or that individual gain? What can you watch or support locally or through a grassroots campaign?
Why, oh, why does everyone hate research so much? It makes you understand the world around you so much better! You don’t even have to go to a library – just go to the Internet on your phone! If you see a story, “500 million immigrants to arrive in New Orleans” and you’re like, “OH MY GOSH! No, my world is coming to an end!” (which, to be honest, I probably need to have a heart-to-heart with you if that’s the case, but that’s beside the point), do a few things: look to see if a) it’s a legit news source (websites such as 965WKESnews.com are pretty easy to come by and are NOT REAL NEWS – I literally just made that one up); b) when it was published (as in last night or three years ago); and c) is any other news outlet in the area covering it? If not, it may be not real.
There, three easy suggestions to help you not fall for fake news. Because, really, when you post something on social media, the last thing you want to happen is someone to say, “Um…you know this is a hoax, right?”
Or, even worse – for you to inadvertently spread false information to others.