Media literacy, who are “the media”?
With every topic or story just a click away, credible journalism and click bait continue to fight for attention, leaving many to question who exactly “the media” is.
“I keep hearing this misnomer,” said Ken Winter, former editor of the Petoskey News Review and current lecturer at North Central Michigan College and Michigan State University.
“I hear in print and broadcast that ‘we are looking for the truth’. Well, we’re not really looking for the truth. We don’t know what the truth is. We provide information and facts so that people can form their own opinions, ”said Winter.
Michael Anderson, the chair of communications at Northwestern Michigan College, said many of its students were surprised at the number and specificity of the rules by which journalists operate.
Presenting facts is the ultimate goal, but when developing a story, the number of sources, questions asked, and the length of the interview all affect the outcome of the narrative.
“A lot of people think that public communicators just convey messages and often design them,” says Anderson.
The college journalism education covers topics related to information gathering tactics, ethics, media law, writing technique and more.
“Students are often surprised at the extent to which legal precedents shape journalistic ethics and also surprised by the true story of the First Amendment,” said Anderson.
Mark Howell has been a professor of communications at Northwestern Michigan College since 1997.
“In my communication-based courses, I teach concepts of Aristotelian rhetorical strategies. These encourage the author to focus on his responsible use of logic, research, appealing to the emotions of his audience, and the importance of maintaining credibility as a means of generating trust and goodwill, “Howell said.
Anderson’s journalism class at Northwestern Michigan College has an entire unit devoted to ethics.
“We have a lot of fun going through scenarios and various do’s and don’ts as journalists, such as ‘Don’t let the source pay for your lunch’ – especially when the hamburger is the story,” said Anderson.
Although the principles and ethics of journalism persist, the internet has influenced the speed, manpower, and manner of delivering news to audiences.
Dwight Brady is a professor in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Northern Michigan University. He teaches courses in multimedia journalism and media law.
When the Internet first hit the market in the 1990s, Brady wrote his PhD thesis with the idea that this new medium could be used to provide comprehensive information about political candidates compared to typical coverage in the horse racing media.
“In theory (the Internet) should have been a very positive step for a democratic republic. In reality, the Internet and social media allow people to simply ignore objective sources of information that do not fully align with their worldview, ”said Brady.
“If they don’t like what they read or hear from professional news organizations, they can now find multiple news outlets pouring into their respective echo chambers at both ends of the political spectrum. Spreading conspiracy theories and speculation is easy, gathering accurate facts, and double or triple checking a source is time consuming, ”Brady said.
Howell notes that Internet speed can correlate with distrust of immediate information. Prior to becoming a professor, he was an editor at The Selinsgrove Times-Tribune, a weekly newspaper in central Pennsylvania.
“When I was a newspaper reporter, photographer, and editor, everything I wrote, photographed, or published took the advantage of time, even a breaking story or event gave me the luxury of having enough time before publication to make sure the relevant details were correct and properly presented, ”Howell said.
“In today’s Internet media environment, news and information can be distributed around the world at the touch of a button,” Howell said.
In class, Howell reminds students to stay active and curious about where they are engaging with the news and what it is like.
“As more and more media are disseminated online, I fear the audience’s inability to disconnect from the messages they are receiving. It’s easy to get into online content in person – think Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram because most of the media seek a connection between sender and recipient, ”Howell said.
“I teach or at least encourage my students to become active or critical media consumers full-time. A reader or viewer has to keep looking for content that looks or sounds too program-centric, “Howell said.
“The consumer’s only line of defense is to approach everything they read or see with a critical eye and an open mind,” Howell said.
One example Howell teaches is the rhetorical technique of myth. This concept refers to the use of traditional or recurring themes that are broadly understood by a particular audience. Language that, on the surface, appears to be charged with significant meaning.
“Words like democracy or patriotism – when used for politically or ethically charged purposes – can actually be used to project a carefully crafted and biased message,” Howell said.
Winter reminds readers that most of the stories they have read are straight from the source.
“There are so many alternative ways to get information.
“People forget that the news they read most of the time comes from someone on the ground, usually from a print publication,” Winter said.