College Newsrooms Should Help Fix Media Literacy
Illinois’ The recently passed law on media literacy in education does not apply to college newsrooms, but college-aged journalists can – and should – contribute to media literacy in communities communities by increasing transparency about our journalistic practices and the standards of our organizations.
Illinois became the first state to require information literacy classes in every high school, passing a law making the program mandatory in August. According to House Bill 234, media literacy is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and communicate using a variety of forms”. It was adopted in response to growing misinformation surrounding the pandemic and the 2020 electoral cycle, and aims to equip students with the tools to discern what information is trustworthy.
While the New York Times and Wall Street Journal plans are useful, tailoring them to the needs of college communities is paramount because of the unique relationships college journalists have with the communities we cover. For example, due to our proximity (and sometimes our belonging) to local communities, it is easy for readers to assume that personal experience spills over into prejudices and conflicts of interest. However, there are internal regulations that prevent this from happening – they are simply not made public.
After looking at the Wall Street Journal’s guide to reading news, I noticed some content that might alleviate the aforementioned problem. Short standards and ethics videos that explain the line between opinion and news, along with explanations of how clearly labeled advertising does not conflict with articles, help consumers understand what hides behind the content they see.
For a college newsroom, the walkthroughs of the editorial process – from pitching to fact-checking to print layout – could clear up any confusion about the content. In the past, we have taken steps to address some of these issues through our “From the press roomBut there are still steps we can and must take to deepen this education of our reporting and publishing processes for our readers.
One problem we face in covering a hyperlocal area is that we have to compete with word of mouth, in addition to social media. While news travels quickly, the emphasis on transparency behind our fact-checking process can draw readers to us for more in-depth and accurate reporting. It also gives us a chance to engage with the same strategies the New York Times used to correct media literacy: making journalists more accessible.
In partnership with The News Literacy Project, The New York Times runs calls and in-class classes with their own reporters to bridge the gap between reporters and the community, something college-aged reporters are almost too familiar with. College journalists can take advantage of this by acting as ambassadors for their publications and explaining the culture and protocol where appropriate.
When Suzi Watford, The Wall Street Journal’s marketing and membership editor, discussed the WSJ’s new literacy guide in an interview with the National Press Club’s Institute for Journalism, she pointed out that all readers do not have the same level of judgment on information. As a result, she said the guides provide an applicable and accessible level of knowledge base. Not everyone thinks about the news all the time, and as a result, the ins and outs of our industry are often left to guesswork – and that’s a fact that we journalists need to anchor within ourselves.
The issue of media literacy is a multi-faceted issue that touches on trust, transparency and clarity. It is the responsibility of members of the media to do what we can to repair the flaws in the media literacy of the community we serve. Through media literacy initiatives, student publications can gain dedicated readers who appreciate the facts provided by reputable journalists.
Alex Perry is a second year economics and journalism student. You can contact her at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this editorial, send a letter to the editor at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of all staff at The Daily Northwestern.