Journalism professors detail US media illiteracy crisis | City News


It’s probably happened to every person in the UT community: a friend or family member is sharing a social media news item that looks a bit suspicious. Upon closer examination, the story turns out to be utterly false, with retouched images, a click-bait headline, and quotes from fake “experts”. But the person who shared it believes every word is true.

How do smart people fall for such blatant misinformation? The problem, according to professors at the School of Journalism and Electronic Media, is that Americans of all walks of life and ages lack what is called media literacy, or knowledge of how news is created and how it works. the best way to consume them.

In the past, media literacy was less vital to democracy than it is today, as much of the work of sorting out bad news was done by the news organizations themselves. Today, information is consumed primarily on the Internet, and tens of thousands of media figures write and speak without editorial control.

Much of the task of eradicating fake news has fallen on individual Americans sitting on their phones, who don’t know enough about how the news media work to distinguish right from wrong.

Mark Harmon, a journalism and electronic media professor who teaches courses on public opinion, media and democracy, says Internet disinformation is especially appealing when it supports our preconceived views.

“The great thing about the Internet is that it is unedited and the horrible thing about the Internet is that it is unedited,” Harmon said. “So what’s going on is all the checks and balances to check, for example, the veracity of the story may be missing and so you have some kind of Gresham’s law of information where the evil tends to get.” spread faster and be accepted more than the good, and this is especially true if the bad information matches your current point of view. “

According to Harmon, the reason why false information is able to spread so quickly and deceive so many bona fide Americans is not only because it is designed to confirm our beliefs, but also because most of the Americans are not equipped with the knowledge to recognize them. for what it is.

“What we need in our lives and in our education system is a good sense of media literacy,” Harmon said. “We need to know how to assess claims, we need to know that well-done studies are better than a person’s anecdote, we need to know how to use fact-checking sources … if we don’t know and we don’t. do not know. I don’t know how to argue, so we’re just going to be a cacophony of screaming against each other.

Joy Jenkins, an assistant professor of journalism and electronic media, says she was duped when she participated in a research investigation into the recognition of trolls, or internet users who intentionally spread false and hateful information.

“I went to take it and I didn’t do well and I thought I understood this stuff pretty well,” Jenkins said. “Some of the trolls that are happening and the fake profiles and the like are really hard to see, let alone things like the deep fakes and what’s going on with the visuals, the videos and the pictures. You know, it’s really efficient technology that’s being used, but it’s also pretty scary how easily it can fool people.

As media literacy becomes more important in the digital age, it also becomes more elusive. Technologies such as deep fakes, in which faces are superimposed on images or videos to make it look like someone has said something they haven’t said, make it harder to say when a story is wrong.

In order to combat the spread of disinformation, Jenkins and her fellow journalism professors advocate for media literacy from an early age. In a recent Jenkins survey of journalism students and professors, a majority said they had not received any media literacy training before going to college.

This survey and others like it suggest that, if they are given media literacy, Americans do not learn how to properly use search engines, determine whether or not a news story is credible, and how journalism works. is even conducted. until their internet habits are already formed.

“Having these conversations at a young age is so vital because now kids are on their shelves when they’re really little and it never goes away,” Jenkins said. “None of us are above or beyond. I think media literacy is a lifelong effort that we need to be part of.

A crucial aspect of media literacy is the ability to differentiate between the types of media we consume on a daily basis. For his part, Harmon doesn’t even like to use the term “media,” because of its potential for broad generalizations that put fake news and trustworthy journalism on an equal footing.

Harmon, who has written opinion pieces for various local news outlets for decades, worries that many people cannot tell the fundamental difference between fact and opinion. This, he says, is another problem that has been exacerbated by the Internet.

“People often do not understand the difference between an opinion piece and an analysis article and a live news article and it is very difficult to maintain that when they are all appearing on the same screen at the same time at the same time. place, ”Harmon said. . “You must notice the little clues about what you come across. ”

The “media” category covers much of the content that can be found online, including advertisements, podcasts, music, movies, and random people’s tweets, as well as responsible journalism. Jenkins says any discussion of media bias must take these differences into account.

“When we talk about changes and trends and things that are happening, we have to look at these industries in particular, and in particular the goals of the producers and what they are trying to do,” Jenkins said. “Bringing the media together under one umbrella and criticizing them isn’t super productive, doesn’t do much.”

It’s fair to say that mistrust of the news media has rarely been greater than it is today, and Jenkins says not all the mistrust is unfounded. The media has often not been interested in the stories or issues facing the most rural and conservative Americans, a phenomenon former President Donald Trump used to underpin much of his anti-media rhetoric.

In order to regain that trust, Jenkins believes journalists need to make sure their work is transparent to the public.

“I think especially for journalists, it’s really thinking about the value of transparency and helping their audience see what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, how they make decisions, how they choose their sources. , how they choose to present a story in terms of the framing, photos and headlines, ”Jenkins said.“ I think there are a lot of aspects of the (process) that reporters assume the audience understands, and it is not. ”

Catherine Luther, professor of journalism and director of the School of Journalism and Electronic Media, also strongly believes in the power of transparency as a solution to problems of bias and mistrust in the media.

“The digital world has made it possible for journalists to provide links to their sources and even the data they accessed for their stories,” Luther said. “I think providing such information is important and could lead to the restoration of public confidence in the media.”

It has become a popular refrain in recent years to say that the “liberal media” has never been as biased as it is now, perhaps even too biased to be of use. Even taking into account that much of this criticism is aimed at cable news and social media, two sources long known for their entertainment value, journalism professors say the accusation is false.

Julie Andsager, journalism and electronic media professor specializing in reporting on health and medicine, said media bias is much more prominent and acceptable than it is by today’s standards of journalistic objectivity. ‘hui.

“History shows us that the news media was much more biased than it is today in the 1700s and 1800s,” Andsager said. “Today we have become accustomed to the television news system since the 1950s, where ABC, CBS and NBC had to compete and therefore could not maintain prejudices. Now that we have 24/7 news and many other media, that presumption has faded, and it does appear that the news media are “biased” whether they are or not.

All media illiteracy and mistrust of the news media has led to a chapter in American history that some have called “post-fact” or “post-truth,” where the truth matters less than. opinion.

Andsager said that in an era of COVID, when the public relies on the news media for health messages, media illiteracy can become a barrier to survival.

“Science reporting has clearly taken a hard hit over the past two years as the political framing sought to overcome the facts,” Andsager said. “If we admit that ‘the facts don’t matter,’ that means the science doesn’t matter. Look at the Idahoans who encouraged their kids to burn face masks last week (or so) – they’re teaching these kids that science doesn’t matter. I hate to think about the possible ramifications for the future.


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