News Media Literacy is suddenly everywhere!

So much going on now that everyone suddenly wants to talk media literacy and “fake news”! While the circumstances are unfortunate, the silver lining these days is the increase in awareness and interest in these important topics. I’m actually on sabbatical this semester, but I’m keeping pretty busy…

I recently got to participate in Boise Weekly’s “Citizen” feature in a Q&A titled, “The essential nature of media literacy and fact vs. fiction.”

As for research, I have two new publications I’m excited about:

One is in the Journal of Media Literacy Education titled “News Media Literacy and Political Engagement: What’s the Connection?” In this study, I and fellow co-authors Stephanie Craft at University of Illinois and Adam Maksl at Indiana University Southeast found that individuals with higher levels of news media literacy also have higher levels of political engagement.

We also have an article in the journal Communication and the Public titled “News Media Literacy and Conspiracy Theory Endorsement.” In this article, we found that higher levels of news media literacy are related to lower endorsement of conspiracy theories.

Together, I hope these two publications help make the case for the importance of news media literacy in democratic society, particularly in the context of today’s messy information environment. Our theory-based approach goes beyond the typical notion of news literacy, which is often limited to fact-checking and hoax-spotting. While these skills are important, this research illustrates the need for holistic knowledge of the media system and its impact.

Our definition of news media literacy centers on knowledge about how the news industry works, how outside forces influence content and how content affects consumers. We also examine individuals’ motivations for news consumption and feelings of control over their consumption.

Looking ahead, Adam and I have a book under contract with publisher ABC-CLIO. It’s a reference book called “American Journalism and Fake News: Examining the Facts.”

Finally, I’ve had lots of chances to share the gospel of news media literacy, including Oct. 6 at the Idaho Library Association conference as part of a panel on media literacy, and at an Albertsons Library session on combating misinformation on Oct. 24.

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The struggle over news literacy

My latest piece on news literacy was published in the UK journal, Journalism Education. I argue for the inclusion of political economic contexts in teaching people about news. It helps to know something about the systems and processes that produce news if you want to understand what you’re getting and what’s left out…

The struggle over news literacy: can we include political economic contexts in the emerging field of news literacy?

Surging in popularity, news literacy has tended to centre on an understanding of journalistic content and its importance for preserving democratic life. What typically receive less attention are the political, economic and cultural contexts in which news is produced. A focus on content is warranted, but examination of the institutions and structure of news media systems also is essential for developing a full appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of news content. Drawing on literature in media literacy, political economy of media, and media sociology, this paper argues for a context-centred approach to the critical analysis of news content as well as its production and consumption.

Read the full article here. It’s open access!

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In the Media

I made two recent media appearances. I love talking to reporters and helping to provide a scholarly context for current events. One story is about a new news outlet created by a regional bank, which raises some obvious conflict-of-interest questions. Another article covered the Sony hack incident and localized the issue to Boise. Good times!

I also wrote a couple pieces of my own for The Blue Review. The Flight from Journalism covers the imbalance between journalism and public relations and examines the bigger political economic picture. The End of the Open Internet discusses the need for net neutrality and provides some historical context.

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Measuring News Media Literacy

I co-authored a white paper report (PDF) on research conducted with support from the McCormick Foundation. Developing ways to improve young people’s news media literacy has been the focus of much recent attention among scholars, educators, and news professionals. Common definitions and approaches, however, have been scarce, making it difficult to compare and analyze curriculum effectiveness and research results. This project sought to create a measure of news media literacy that can be used to further our understanding of what constitutes news media literacy and to help validate and improve education and training.

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Teaching Nuance

The need for media literacy in the digital age

Originally posted at The Blue Review on Feb. 20, 2013.

By Seth Ashley

Today’s students are not being equipped with the critical thinking and analysis skills they need to successfully navigate our media-saturated environment. Time spent consuming media, now up to nearly eight hours a day, continues to increase, but students often are poorly versed in analyzing and understanding different media messages and formats. They prefer to see the world of media messages as simple and straightforward, to be taken at face value, according to recent research in the field of media literacy. While students express confidence that media messages have clear primary meanings and sources that can be easily identified, media literacy demands nuanced thinking about message creators as well as their goals and values.

As policymakers grapple over how to deploy technology in classrooms, they should beware of producing generations of students drowning in digital devices without enough good ideas about what to do with them.
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Don’t Ignore the Evidence on Sensible Gun Control

We do not need to ban guns or even come close. We just need sensible restrictions.

Originally published at The Blue Review on Dec. 17, 2012:

Less than 24 hours before the Sandy Hook shooting, students in my media and politics class, in our final meeting of the semester, debated gun control in the abstract. Students presented their findings on media misrepresentations of reality and demonstrated that, on this contentious issue, reality remains hard to grasp. Yet the next morning, reality was before us as another violent tragedy played out on television.

Liza Long’s piece on this site about the role of mental illness in these incidents has spread widely, and many others have emphasized the importance of discussing ways to improve mental health in this country. Absolutely. But let’s not be distracted from the real issue.
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Attack and Inform: Campaign spin actually informs and engages voters, in some states

Originally posted at The Blue Review on Oct. 9, 2012:

Compared to the barrage of political advertising in the 10 or so swing states that will decide this election, Idaho is on the sidelines, viewed as a guaranteed win for one party and a lost cause for the other. It can be hard to tell there’s an election going on at all here, and while we might be thankful that we don’t have to listen to candidates endlessly “approve this message” like folks in Ohio, Nevada or Florida, we may be less informed as a result.

Conventional wisdom and polling data tell us that political ads, which are mostly negative, turn people off and drive us further apart. They disillusion, they polarize, they depoliticize. They are what we’re referring to when we talk about our mean, ugly politics. But here’s the thing: They also educate us.
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