(Critically) Reading the News: Empowering Citizens in the Age of Disinformation

By Michael Ryan Bulosan Xavier School

The Disinformation Drama

Disinformation has become prevalent in contemporary society in the wake of changes in information production, distribution and consumption brought about by new media technologies. Production practices specifically for news have changed drastically because of these innovations.

In particular, these innovations that are disrupting the traditional flow of information from journalists to audience are: technologies such as blogging which have allowed new voices in public discourse (Fleming, 2012); mobile communication devices which allow citizens to receive and share reports, capture images and videos and collaborate; the participatory feature of the internet such as discussion groups, user-generated content and weblogs which have transformed the top-down media system; and enhanced media spreadibility, ie the spread of information (Mihailidis, 2012).

In the wake of technological advancements, practices in news production have changed as well. As an institution that places verification as a top priority, it is challenged by bloggers and citizen journalist who produce stories for public consumption without thorough investigation. Unfortunately, it was even found out that misleading posts are often more popular than posts with accurate information on Facebook (Sharma, et. al, 2017).

Current research shows that 67% of American adults get news on social media (Pew Research Center, 2017); the most popular fake news stories were more widely shared on Facebook than the most popular mainstream news stories (Silverman 2016); and many people who see fake news stories report that they believe them (Silverman & Singer-Vine, 2016).

With these challenges, news organizations need to keep up with the “scoop-mentality” by reporting current events as soon as a story worth telling is available. Consequently, these new practices and platforms may tend to run counter to or may threaten the principles of journalism.

The new literacy that is News Literacy

Literacy basically refers to the ability to read and write which is usually associated with the print medium. However, with the rise and wide dissemination of new media technologies, the concept of literacy has come to be used in the context of people’s engagement with media. Educators and researchers around the world have been concerned with the increasing need in teaching critical thinking skills that address the technology-driven patterns of consumption and dissemination in the digital age (Kajimoto, 2016).

A news literate person can differentiate facts from fiction. They are able to maximize the news because they make informed decisions that enable them to practice their democratic rights. Such is an indicator of an empowered citizen.

Media education is proposed to be a response to technological developments that are reshaping the way information is disseminated and thus expands the concept of literacy in order to include all forms of media. News literacy, a branch of media literacy focuses more on the news media. Scholars argue that news media literacy plays an important role in democratic self-governance, especially when informed by the empirical findings of existing scholarship on the limitations of news media (Ashley, Maksl, and Craft 2013).

Developing news literacy cannot be achieved just by simply reading the news. Learners to need to have specific skills which serve as tools in order to make sense of what they are reading.

Potter (2004) in his book Media Literacy identified 7 important skills of media literacy. These are:

  • Analysis: breaking down elements into meaningful elements
  • Evaluation: judging the value of an element; the judgement is made by comparing the element to some criterion
  • Grouping: determining which elements are alike in some way; determining which elements are different in some way
  • Induction: inferring a pattern across a small set of elements, then generalizing the pattern to all elements in the set
  • Deduction: using general principles to explain particulars
  • Synthesis: assembling elements into a new structure
  • Abstracting: creating a brief, clear and accurate description capturing the essence of a message in a smaller number of words than the message itself

Why we should be news literate

News media literacy is considered to be an important educational goal because of its potential to foster increased news consumption, civic engagement, and democratic participation, and by extension, to improve the conditions of citizenship and democracy (Ashley, et. al., 2013). A news media literate person would draw on his knowledge of the news media industry, according to his or her personal needs and motivations, in interpreting the news messages he or she encounters.

In addition, a news literate person can differentiate facts from fiction. They are able to maximize the news because they make informed decisions that enable them to practice their democratic rights. Such is an indicator of an empowered citizen.

Contributing Author:

Mr. Michael Ryan Bulosan is the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Coordinator in Xavier School. As an educator, he is an advocate of media education and news literacy thus his master’s degree in Communication focusing on Media Education. His research interests include media education, student achievement, news literacy and critical media studies.

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