Media literacy

Check Your Media Literacy | Coeur d’Alene Press


It might seem a little ironic to focus on Media Literacy Week when the share of Americans who read the news is smaller than ever.

Again, that might be the best reason to do it. Reading less (real) news amid a sea of ​​online words masquerading as news has eroded media literacy so thin that it is no longer the norm.

Media education is not limited to the choice of sources. It’s a healthy degree of skepticism (but not cynicism). A keen sense of bias, commercial interests disguised as news, and persuasive word choices presented as fact.

Perhaps most important is self-awareness.

Each of us naturally – consciously or unconsciously – has a desire to confirm our own opinions and beliefs. Media literacy and personal growth starts there: asking the question as we read absolutely anything: “Am I putting aside my preconceptions by reading this?” »

Other literacy tips:

1. Go back to the original source. If Fox News or the New York Times quote the World Health Organization [WHO], read it on the WHO website. Links are often embedded or original sources specifically cited, at least in more reliable news sources (if not, ask yourself why), so take the next step to find the study or key “fact point”. and make sure he actually says what he’s reported to say. Tip: With studies, look for the summary and conclusion sections if reading the full text is like walking through a muddy swamp.

2. Always check multiple sources, not just the one you like. This is a big problem in our politically polarized society. Compare the same issue from different points of view – your primary source, government officials, medical or scientific professionals, and independent media. See which points stand up to all and if more information affects your conclusions. Especially with biased sources, “all” the key facts are rarely presented in one place.

3. Consider the author. Who wrote this? A freelance journalist? An anonymous writer on a website with a specific political point of view or position? Someone claiming to be a “real patient/customer” touting a “miracle” product? Go back to point 2.

4. Why was this created? “Media” includes much more than local newspapers and national news sites. Most of what is online is for one of two other purposes: commercial gain or political persuasion. In other words, most of what you find is not content neutral. It’s biased, even though it tries not to be (hence the vital importance of points 2 and 3).

Much of it is hard to recognize as such, so research word choices. With commercial interests, a “problem” is usually framed as particularly emerging or concerning: a difficult health issue that you can relate to or a danger that makes you want to take action. By the time you’ve finished reading about it, you’re ready to buy something or join a group. These are not reliable data; it is cleverly written advertising masquerading as “real” stories or necessary information.

Are facts presented with descriptive adjectives that cause you to feel a certain way? Play on your fears, stir up your enthusiasm? Do you see trigger words embedded in paragraphs that elicit emotion, passion, or anger from you as a reader? This is bias or persuasion, not mere “fact”. It is designed to recruit, not simply to inform.

5. Look for transparency. How was this conclusion reached? Is the process that led to it transparent? Are the method, schedule, sources and databases shared and verifiable? Don’t just rely on a claim that they are; look for evidence in outside sources. Check it out.

6. Be skeptical, a grain of salt on hand. Going back to our natural biases, as information is created by humans, we cannot assume that it is 100% error free. But we can approach it by practicing healthy skepticism. The facts exist and they can be found; we cannot believe anything at all or life becomes practically impossible.

But we also can’t believe everything we get from one or two major sources. Although research-based, scientific and official sources tend to be the most reliable, even these may, to some extent, rely on information provided by parties beyond their control (see point 5) . If each step is described, the conclusions peer-reviewed and accepted by other qualified people, the process transparent, it is much more reliable.

7. If you can’t see an opposing point of view, don’t stop there. This is the second most important characteristic of a media savvy reader. Is an opposing point of view presented, without being immediately rejected or worse, ridiculed? “Real” information and reliable sources approach more from one side, treating it as something to be analyzed and considered rather than dismissively presented as ridiculous or wrong.

Especially if you agree. And that brings media literacy back to its number one point: our own biases are the worst enemies of fact-finding.

The more we want to believe it, the more skeptical we should be. That’s not to say nothing can’t be true, but it’s a reason to be more open-minded when reading, more vigilant about selecting sources, and more eager to consume information from a greater variety of sources.

The truth stands up to scrutiny.


Sholeh Patrick, JD is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email [email protected]


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