By: Frederic Murray
The Fourth Estate in our country has been denigrated as the political opposition and told to be silent. In an attempt to occupy the high ground, the term “fake news” has been appropriated at the highest levels of the current federal government. The threats to intellectual freedom are very real; examples of gag orders and defunding are in place or building momentum. We can clearly see that the language of disparagement and lies are going to be standard tactics in a war against free expression.
I would love to walk into my classroom, tell everyone to put away their phones and take out their notebooks, and loudly declare the president of the United States to be a liar of the first magnitude, an unmitigated charlatan whose delusions and deceptions I have been witness to since the 1980s. A decade, which at this point, pre-dates the birth year of almost all of my students.
But I will not, because nothing could be taught, let alone learned in the circus atmosphere this kind of language would unleash.
Polemics are problem enough.
A few years ago, one of my faculty approached me in the fall semester and asked if I knew of any resources that could help her students distinguish between media and news, good sources and bad — a standard request our information literacy classes are designed to address. We exchanged a few emails and I eventually sent over a short list of links and resources which she dutifully embedded into the course management system. The students looked over the resources, ignored them, and then went their merry way as students are wont to do. Suffice to say the outcomes were not as successful as hoped, so the next semester she asked if I could teach a 50-minute session on news literacy. A little face-to-face instruction in the library, we felt, might gain their attention and focus their writing.
We have a good relationship on our campus between the librarians who teach (all seven of us) and the various colleges and departments that make up our university. They trust us with their students, and we take that trust very seriously.
As the head of Instructional Services, I have taught, as many of us have, a fair number of sessions on web evaluation. However, this was a chance to focus on a very specific type of literacy. In retrospect, loud as the digital chatter may have been getting in 2015, this was a much quieter and safer time.
“It’s never been easier to get information, never been easier to misinterpret information, and the consequences have never been higher.”
-Howard Schneider, Stony Brook University, New York
In 2004, under the direction of Howie Schneider, a former managing editor of Long Island’s Newsday, the Journalism School at Stony Brook University began teaching a course on news literacy. It was one of the first journalism schools to address the rising tide of digital media, and one of the first schools to try and equip its students with the mindset and skills needed to become critical evaluators of news in the 21st century. That first course evolved into the Center for News Literacy, an educational resource for anyone wanting to develop curriculum focused on news literacy. Their Digital Resource Center, embedded in the website, freely provides course documents and data sets related to assessment. Schneider, who is currently dean of the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University, has described news literacy as “a newly mapped civic tributary of media literacy.”
As librarians, we are rarely given more than one or two sessions with students, so adopting the most salient elements of news literacy became a necessity. We were able to cover things such as “VIA: Verification, Independence and Accountability” as well as discussing how rank does not equal reliability, and the inherent problems of bias in any reporting. The kind of material available from the Center for News Literacy readily translates into the kind of information literacy practices many of us are familiar with and currently using in our libraries. I can see these lesson plans becoming workshops or tutorials for public and school libraries.
The Columbia Journalism Review recently discussed how the news media could learn a lot from librarians and the framework, and set of principles, we’ve developed for dealing with the onslaught of digital information. But the truth is that in a culture devoted to the free flow of information and free expression, we learn best when we learn from each other.
Frederic Murray is the head of Instructional Services at the Al Harris Library, Southwestern Oklahoma State University. He is a tenured faculty member and as an academic librarian has initiated the growth and expansion of information literacy classes across the campus curriculum. He has presented at state, national and international conferences in the areas of library pedagogy, digital textbooks, and the development of curriculum for Native American Studies. He serves as the managing editor for Administrative Issues Journal, a peer-reviewed, open access journal in its sixth year of publication. He believes deeply in the value of books and the inherent strength found in the human voice. Among his favorite authors are Lenny Bruce, Jimmy Santiago Baca and Carson McCullers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org