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Want better journalism? Boost news literacy.

Citizens armed with the power of discernment will do more to rescue journalism than any dozen panels of veteran editors ruminating about their golden years in power and musing about better business models. 

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Could you tune out the news for a full 48 hours? I mean a total blackout: No text-message news updates. No e-mail with news in it. No newspapers. No magazines. No weather channel. No ESPN and certainly no CBS News, Fox News, or CNN. No radio. No websites that include news. No news reports on planes, atop gas pumps, or from screens in the back of taxicabs. 

You’d even have to walk away from conversations about the news and leave the room if someone turns on a news show.  

That’s a real homework assignment we give students on their first day of class in a News Literacy course invented at Long Island’s Stony Brook University

It sounds easy enough – especially to the many students who enter the course saying they don’t follow the news. 

But after just two days, students report an amazing discovery: They have to work really hard to avoid it. 

And with that fresh insight – that they are in fact passively being fed news all the time – these undergraduates are ready for a semester of hard work. 

There’s a lesson here for all of us who worry about the quality of journalism today: Citizens armed with the power of discernment will do more to rescue journalism than any dozen panels of veteran editors ruminating about their golden years in power and musing about better business models. 

Unfortunately, most Millennial Generation students have been deprived of a good civics class. They’re bombarded with 100,000 words’ worth of information a day, yet they are unsure how government works or even who is in charge, and they don’t know how to find trustworthy news in the torrent of information that besets them. 

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