Facts first, opinions later: media literacy works for everyone

Facts first, opinions later: media literacy works for everyone

August 05
13:53 2016

The Editorial Board

Online journalism, in the politically polarized world in which we live, has its equal share of pros and cons. On the positive side, it’s a wonderful way to circulate news since print newspapers have declined. The dawn of social networking superseded the casual reader’s necessity for print, and the internet has become the perfect platform to receive instantaneous press on your feed – without the hassle of subscribing to daily papers, paywalls notwithstanding.

In contrast, these effects do more harm than good when it comes to receiving such news. Instead of properly processing Facebook or Twitter-circulated news, and doing more research to confirm what one readily-available web page reports, it appears that many web enthusiasts take this news as gospel, often because they agree with the sentiments being reported. In turn, they freely disregard other reports that contradict what they believe (even from more credible sources) and remain ignorant to updated coverage.

In short, cognitive dissonance has gone mainstream.

In the face of this growing pandemic, the necessity for individuals to become media literate has become all the more apparent. According to the Aspen Media Literacy Leadership Institute, it is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.” In layman’s terms, it’s basically the ability to recognize the role that the media plays in 21st century art and technology, and determine what is true or false through basic, consistent parameters.

Media literacy is important to be privy to because of how much sites like BuzzFeed have changed the course of web news. As a matter of fact, everything online journalism does wrong is ostensibly what BuzzFeed symbolizes. For instance, the company’s highest traffic is gained by creating content for social media, which explains why their Facebook reputation has skyrocketed in the past few years.

Illustration by Samuel Wiggins | Senior Staff Illustrator

Illustration by Samuel Wiggins | Senior Staff Illustrator

They boil down breaking news into “listicles” to be easily digested by cubicle workers and young adults that briefly alleviate themselves from life’s tediousness. Therefore, it’s easy for them to process this short attention span reporting and trust it – even though the company’s accusations of plagiarism and copyright infringement have recently become more apparent. Not much of a surprise for such a quick, “copy-and-paste” style of business.

Once the concept of media literacy has been grasped, and individuals have begun digging deeper into the news to find the facts for themselves, it’s become apparent how flawed social network-based reporting is. Over a year ago, Pew Research conducted a study to postulate the most trusted outlets for political news. The top five were CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX. The bottom three included BuzzFeed, whereas the Fox-based programs of Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly were only a few notches above it.

But this should not be taken as “all online sources are bad.”  The aforementioned top five certainly employ websites to distribute their news, especially since less people use cable right now, and many duly-trusted outlets utilize this feature. The problem lies in the unregulated expedience that internet media provides and the comfort individuals feel in sharing information that should not be trusted on agreement alone. It will greatly benefit one’s daily water-cooler discussions to know all the facts before resorting to unmitigated bluster.

In reality, the word “media” doesn’t not apply. It is nomenclature that extends into television, film, music and literature. If you have liberal leanings and are able to be entertained by Michael Bay’s “13 Hours,” despite its conservative agenda, that speaks a lot about your level of awareness. If you can listen to Eminem without murdering your wife, it shows how independent your mind works. If you can read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” without bringing racial anger into the workplace, it speaks a lot about your sense of respect.

This is why trusting yourself to follow the facts is imperative. Everything that the media purports – or in the case of Gawker, regurgitates – is only timely at the moment. Since news is always changing, pre-existing facts will always follow suit. So please, do your research before finalizing your opinion. If not, shunning media literacy is purely disingenuous.

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