Much has been said in recent weeks about how the news media will need to transform itself if it is to keep up with continued deception from a President Trump, and with the proliferation of so-called fake news.
I think it's true that journalists have an almost impossible-to-navigate obstacle course in front of them for the years ahead. Covering hard news, calling out lies and omissions while maintaining their access, not becoming the story, not becoming desensitized, and just generally being on top of the actions of an administration unconstrained by any reasonable standards of integrity or transparency will be all-consuming.
But perhaps the harder task falls to an American public whose media literacy has apparently wasted away under the relentless influence of social media, clickbait journalism, passive entertainment, substandard education, and general civic apathy. It may not matter how well-sourced, researched and fact-checked a news article might be if the average reader doesn't know how to distinguish it from a speculative, misleading or just plain fabricated piece published by someone trying to get rich quick or advance an agenda. It probably doesn't matter how much time and money a media organization invests in being seen as credible if there is no widely accepted and respected standard for credibility.
If the public continues to give our clicks, attention and dollars to the most salacious and distracting stories over ones that cover the complex substance of politics and governance, there may be little hope for a strong fourth estate.
Maybe this is an area where there is good work to be done on a personal level. Maybe we can hold each other more accountable in our family conversations, local communities and social media interactions. If I see someone I know sharing an article that is poorly sourced or poorly reported, maybe I should call that out. If I see someone regularly relying on an ethically compromised publication or broadcast, maybe I should try to engage them about that. But without some common understanding of the value of having clear ethics and standards in journalism, I do wonder if those conversations would go anywhere useful.
I also think about providing financial support to media organizations that are practicing their trade with careful regard for those ethics and standards. I've made a few donations here and there and I'm actively following awkwardly named projects like Blendle, Bitwall, cointent and others that try to modernize business models for monetizing the newspaper industry. Maybe recent events will spur more widespread financial support from people who truly value quality and integrity in reporting. It's one thing for the New York Times to see a surge in subscriptions post-election, it's another for a majority of the public to value paying for good content and actually incorporating it into their lives and political engagement long-term.
And in the long run, I think we're back to focusing on things that can take a while, maybe generations: teaching the importance of media literacy to young people, valuing the study of history in ways that put today's events in context, and emphasizing truth-seeking in all public discourse, not just around politics and elections. And so on.
How do you support journalism with integrity in your own life? Where do you find hope for the future of the media?
3 thoughts on “Without media literacy, is there hope for the media?”
Excellent thoughts on a (now) deplorable subject ..
Thank you, Chris. As to your final question, reading The Nation helps. It's the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S.A. (since 1965) and exists because of the support of subscribers and donors. Does it have a point of view? Absolutely. It's unabashedly progressive. But it doesn't engage in group think or propaganda. Kay and I spend five days with The Nation staff and others a month ago and were fed by the intelligence, solid information, and good journalism of the panelists and speakers. I also take notice of David Brooks, Andrew Sullivan, and George Will on the conservative side of the political spectrum. And then, of course, there are Bill Maher and Lewis Black.
All the best to you, Chris. Wonderful to see your thinking and putting it out there.
Grace and Peace,
Nice topic Chris! I would like to add this as well. What is important to understand is that media literacy is not about "protecting" kids from unwanted messages. Media are so ingrained in our cultural milieu that even if we turn off the set, we still cannot escape today's media culture. Media no longer just influence our culture. They ARE our culture. Which is kind of sad really...