Editorial: Schreiber should offer a news literacy class

Editorial Board

The pen, or keyboard, can be mightier than the sword, especially pertaining to news.  With our world more digitized than ever, information is easily accessible and widespread.  Any publication or article can reach millions of people solely in the United States, and these stories can have a profound impact on their readers.  People today have been conditioned to react to stories and articles quickly, even before considering their truth, which makes us susceptible to false narratives and misinformation.  This currently poses issues on a national, and even global, level. 

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights provides for freedom of speech and of press.  “Congress shall make no law. . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” it states.  The amendment was created to prevent the wrongful conviction of journalists for speaking out against government injustices, but it has also opened the door for fake news. 

Especially in today’s world, it is important that we act only on factual news, specifically in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  We rely on this information to guide our safety practices and understand which groups of people are at higher risk of infection.   There are clear and scientific answers to each of these questions, but falsified media published on these topics are extremely dangerous.

How can these harms be prevented without violating the First Amendment?  Since there is no way to prevent this news from being published or spread, the only way to do this is by teaching and promoting news literacy.

News literacy is defined as the ability to use skills, such as critical thinking and analysis, to determine whether or not an article is reliable and trustworthy.  Someone who possesses these skills can easily separate fake news from real, allowing them to act based on fact.  There are many different components of news literacy, all of which can be easily taught. 

One of these components is realizing the difference between facts and opinions.  Opinion-based articles are considered biased, meaning they only focus on one side of an argument and display only one perspective.  Sometimes, a writer will present their opinions as if they are factual, which will lead many readers to believe their perspective is the truth.  Learning ways to differentiate between the two, such as looking for cited sources or cross referencing, can help in discerning the reliability of an article.  This, along with other skills that boost news literacy, including evaluating the credibility of a source, is valuable to learn.  

It is important for Schreiber students to learn this discipline as they become college students and eventually, functioning members of society.  Many colleges, including UT-Austin, Emory University, and Syracuse University, have begun offering news and media literacy classes, as have several online organizations.  However, none of these are required courses, and many students choose to ignore them, viewing them as unimportant.  Consequently, they enter the working world without knowing how to determine what news is factual or not, which has many potential detriments.  To ensure that students are able to identify false media, Schreiber should require students to participate in a news literacy course before graduating.