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The past decade has seen a marked decline in trust in institutions, businesses, and the media. At the same time, the world has witnessed a rise in disinformation, fake news, and alternative facts as different factions have an increasing disagreement of what is considered the objective truth. This has been made worse by increasing political polarization and media competition, forcing outlets to compete for their audience’s attention in a way that may not align with objective truth.
It’s no coincidence, then, that drivers of what RAND calls “Truth Decay” have capitalized on this environment, building on cognitive biases, changes in the media landscape, and an educational system that has not kept up with the media literacy needed to decipher the rapid influx of opinion and fact.
That’s why it’s so important to return our focus to provide tools to rebuild public trust and media discernment, and academic institutions can be at the forefront of this change. By giving our students the research tools to separate fact from opinion, we can stem the spread of misinformation and create a more informed society.
In this post, we’ll define media literacy and explore how academic research methods can help build trust and combat the rise of alternative facts.
At its most simple, media literacy is the ability to understand the messages delivered across many types of media. Students with strong media literacy skills have the aptitude to discern bias in articles, point out propaganda, and see how stereotypes show up in different sources, including advertisements, news articles, and social media posts.
As recent news reporting has mingled fact and opinion, this type of discernment is essential to combatting the spread of misinformation—something that will only become more important in the age of AI.
You may have noticed schools introducing media literacy programs to help children better deconstruct and evaluate advertising, news and even the memes that permeate their digital lives.
Alan Miller, Founder and CEO of the News Literacy Project explains, “In this age, everybody is their own editor. Everybody can be their own publisher. We want them to play those roles in ways that are credible and responsible and empower their voices.”
To do this, students need to understand the impact of media on public sentiment and grasp the basics of discerning fact from fiction.
Teach students to find reliable sources, including established news organizations and academic journals. It’s important to note that bias exists in even established sources, so students need to be able to identify bias and how it impacts the validity of the reporting.
Once sources are identified, students need to fact-check the information to corroborate what they are finding. As outlets today are trying to reach a specific audience, their information may bend to meet the expectations of that audience. If they can’t find multiple sources corroborating a statement, students may want to exclude that source.
Bolstered with this information, students can tackle their research projects—or any subsequent endeavors—with confidence.
MORE: The Impact of New Media On Traditional Sources
But media literacy has value beyond classrooms. Corporate organizations or journalists can build trust with media literacy. Here are just a few places media and news literacy can be helpful outside of the classroom.
Whether you’re conducting business intelligence research, performing a SWOT analysis, or seeking to understand emerging risks, you need to see the whole picture. And that’s not something you can do with only a fraction of the facts. Media literacy will allow you to confirm any business intelligence you gather and help shape your business strategy.
You’ll also be better positioned to construct meaningful reports and presentations that speak to readers’ needs and expectations. Furthermore, you can address any questions or skepticism knowing you’ve done your research.
While publishers have admittedly struggled to adapt to the evolving media landscape, one of the biggest issues media companies face is rebuilding trust.
When news consumers have better media literacy skills, they’re empowered to identify the purpose of content and how their own backgrounds, lifestyles and biases influence the interpretation of content. Likewise, media literacy enables thoughtful construction of content to help build up trust in media.
MORE: How to Do Research For Investigative Journalism
With the right skills, the next generation can reset the balance of information dissemination and steer organizations to building trust with their constituents.
That begins with giving students access to the right sources and right research tools, like Nexis Uni. With Nexis Uni, students have behind-the-paywall access to thousands of sources, so they can find and fact-check the sources they need to create accurate, fair, and respectful content for the future.