The most profound communications revolution since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press seems to make it harder, not easier, to determine the truth. The digital revolution is characterized by a flood of information and misinformation that news consumers can access from anywhere at any time.
News aggregators, bloggers, pundits, provocateurs, commentators and “citizen journalists” are competing with traditional journalists for public attention. Uninformed opinion masquerades as news. Lines are blurring between legitimate journalism and the propaganda, entertainment, self-promotion and unmediated information on the Internet.
This superabundance of information has made it imperative that citizens learn to judge the reliability of news reports and other sources of information that is passed along their social networks. The Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University was created to strengthen those skills.
The course that emerged is the foundation of this new discipline dedicated to the post-modern task of sifting the Web for trustworthy information essential to the ancient endeavor of independent decision-making.
Courses in News Literacy explore different ways in which the media is covered, using examples from today’s breaking news and examination of prominent news coverage throughout history. News Literacy courses challenge students by immersing them in the act of news consumption themselves — allowing them to realize their personal experience and the climate of today’s news with a hands-on approach.
The Humanities approach of the News Literacy course helps students understand how human nature, cognitive blind spots and powerful societal forces make it hard work to find reliable information: you can not be passive about news consumption.
Preliminary data collected at Stony Brook show that in addition to measurable increases in ability to detect opinionated writing and flawed reporting, news literacy students are more likely to register to vote and make effort to consume a more diverse diet of news.
Since its inception at Stony Brook University in 2006, 35 undergraduate courses in News Literacy courses have been established across the country.