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Building a Pathway to Trust Through Media Literacy

January 31, 2024 (6 min read)
Digital media literacy is crucial to discerning fact from fiction in today’s media landscape.

Fake news has permeated nearly every part of modern culture: law and politics, entertainment and celebrities, science, and technology. Even language has adapted, giving rise to terms like “post-truth era” and “alternative facts” that reflect how widespread fake news has become.

As a result, relationships between audiences and publishers—including businesses engaged in media production and content creation—have been severely disrupted and often damaged, leading to concerns about brand value and declining trust for media organizations, as well as those across other sectors. 

This power shift has caused major disruptions in our relationships with each other, and with our identities in the marketplace—which is why media literacy is so important.

In this blog, we discuss what media literacy is, how the media landscape has changed, how trust can be built in the media, and methods to ensure that your media literacy skills are able to discern the truth. 

What is media literacy?

The Center for Media Literacy (CML) defines media literacy as “... a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and participate with

messages in a variety of forms—from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”

With a robust media literacy skill set, readers can take in the information in front of them and discern whether it represents an accurate picture. This is especially important with the proliferation of the internet and untraditional sources becoming as prominent as traditional forms of media.

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The current issue with trust in media

The changing media relationship has global implications on ways of doing research and crafting a story that been the norm in traditional media outlets.

Expert Tessa Jolls, who has presided as President and CEO of the Center for Media Literacy (CML) for more than two decades, explains, “Negotiating this change won’t happen overnight but recognizing ‘where we are’ is a start. We need to help people become comfortable with competing points of view, with ambiguity and uncertainty, with making decisions with imperfect information. We need to help people gain skills of risk management, both qualitatively and quantitatively, as well as skills of civil discourse.”

Jolls notes that reactions to the issue of fake news are often instinctive. “Some want to censor and ‘shut it down.’ Or blame the audience by claiming the audience is incapable of understanding or discernment. This is the antithesis of democracy, and if we believe in the power of education to provide people with the knowledge and skills they need to successfully navigate in life, then we must stay the course and intentionally provide the kind of education needed today,” she says.

Some ways to provide this education and earn back trust include:

  • Showing respect and involving the audience in the content being produced
  • Inviting participation, discussion, and exploration of material
  • Teaching people the skill of inquiry—how to interrogate the text rather than blindly accepting or rejecting it

Trust has been damaged, but it can be restored and enhanced by recognizing and nurturing the power of the audience. Organizations must harness and leverage their knowledge, experience, and cultures—individually and collectively.

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The secret to building trust: text + context = message

The text is the beginning point for exploration. Textual analysis is a basic skill that calls for the ability to discern facts versus opinion, advertisements versus editorial, authorship, and content.

Textual analysis answers some basic questions about the source provenance and language:

  • What does the text actually say?
  • Does the information come from a reputable source?
  • What inherent biases are present?
  • Does it cite recognized experts?
  • Does it substantiate claims with verifiable statistics?

While these are important questions to ask, they aren’t the only considerations. Jolls notes, “Text is static. Textual analysis alone is not enough to navigate the world of information.” In any media message, contends Jolls, it’s the context that counts for making meaning and for building trust in the message so that the text is valued enough to involve decision-making.

The power of the audience

Ultimately, the meaning of any message rests with the audience, not with the text. Who brings knowledge to the message? The audience. Who brings feelings to a message? The audience. Who brings experience and education to the message? The audience. Who brings cultural understanding to the message? The audience.

Every message has as many meanings as there are readers or viewers or participants who engage with the message. This is the essence of why the current media environment has been so disruptive. Not only do we have the various understandings of a message, but now, the audience can respond—mix and remix a message—with a global reach thanks to social media.

This makes the provenance of information a challenge to determine. Contextual analysis reveals the lens through which both the creators and the consumers of content interpret information. We all bring ourselves to the text—our knowledge about the world, our political views, our religious beliefs, and even our families. We must become comfortable with the idea that we must trust the audience to be able to sort and filter messages. 

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Media literacy methodology for research

Whether you’re a journalist verifying facts for a story, a political consultant conducting opposition research, or a corporate researcher uncovering strategic business intelligence, applying media literacy best practices helps to ensure that the next article you publish, campaign messaging you push to voters, or competitor analysis you share with the C-suite stands up to scrutiny.

Fortunately, media literacy has grown throughout the past 50 years. Expanded research around media literacy enabled development of methodologies and evaluations that point to a promising path for helping society deal with this new information environment. Media literacy offers frameworks for media construction and deconstruction, as well as for decision-making, that rests on interrogating the media.

Media literacy honors all participants in the media, providing a common language for both building relationships and acquiring insights needed to successfully negotiate these relationships.

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Practical application: Questioning statistics

Debates surrounding vaccination and climate change highlight the importance of understanding context. In the post-truth era, facts are not, in fact, indisputable. As a result, even statistics should be subjected to contextual analysis. The Center for Media Literacy suggests asking the following questions:

  • How is the research presented in the press?
  • How was the research conducted?
  • Who constituted the sample, and how were they selected?
  • Who conducted the research?
  • Who funded the research?
  • Is there anyone who stands to gain from the way numbers are presented?

Conducting extensive research across a wide range of information sources and types—when combined with textual and contextual analysis—enables you to capture a full picture of the various contexts influencing the information you find. This improves your ability to interpret findings and share results in a way that informs and empowers decision makers across the enterprise.

As Tessa Jolls notes, “There is no perfect information or answer. We have to make an honest effort, then take the leap of faith.” By applying media literacy best practices to your business research, you can take that leap with confidence.

Improve your media literacy with trusted sources 

One of the best ways to ensure the information you are getting is accurate and reliable is to use a trusted database that vets sources to provide you the most trustworthy data out there.

Using Nexis®, you can search for and find data you need from the world’s largest aggregated database. Identify credible information, fact-check seamlessly, and find the answers you need. Nexis is the media research solution, getting you the right sources for your story, quickly. Try a free trial today.