Teaching Media Literacy in a World of ‘Fake News’

by Jackson Murphy, Vice President

After a summer of whirling news cycles, young people are settling back into the classroom with information from a wide array of sources at their fingertips – some legitimate, others not so much. This abundance of content combined with competing narratives on what is ‘real’ and what is ‘fake’ in the aftermath of last year’s election underscores the importance of students’ abilities to critically analyze sources of information as they progress through their education and enter the workforce.

Educators understand the urgency of this issue and are working with a number of initiatives across the country to ensure their students are well-informed. Earlier this summer at the Education Writers Association National Seminar, a panel of media and education experts came together to share how schools are teaching media literacy. As discussed during the session, organizations such as The News Literacy Project provide interactive lessons where students can evaluate material and determine the credibility of a particular source. These efforts are taking place locally in New England as well. In Burlington, Vermont, librarians teach students to use the “CRAAP” method – Currency (timeliness), Relevance (importance), Authority (source), Accuracy (reliability) and Purpose (reason) – to help them discern credible news from what you might want to call the alternative.

While thoughtful news consumption is important to many industries, it’s particularly crucial for those of us with careers in communications – particularly as the media landscape shifts right under our feet. A recent Pew Research Center study reported that two-thirds of American adults get some form of news from social media, underscoring the importance of being able to parse out legitimate sources on platforms that can disperse inaccurate content.  As media relations professionals, we’re working with news every day and are trained to critically think about how we might be able to insert our clients into stories and introduce them to journalists as credible resources. But in order to do that, PR pros need a solid foundation in media literacy, which is why education on these issues at the K-12 level is so essential to the future of our profession.

The importance of critically analyzing what is real and fake goes beyond spotting a deceiving piece of content on social media. Despite all of the rhetoric young people are exposed to in today’s political climate, our democracy is contingent on an informed electorate. Journalists play a crucial role in notifying the public on the issues that will affect them. Understanding the news process along with the important standards that go into researching, sourcing and reporting a story helps young people build trust in their local and national press while being able to think critically about the articles they consume and the decisions they will make as civically responsible adults. As we continue to keep up with ever-evolving forms of media, it is important that we support students facing this barrage information, and the educators helping them to make sense of it all.

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