When your parents and grandparents were kids, media was mostly TV, radio and newspapers. Adults worried about the way sugary snacks and the latest toys were aimed at kids through commercials aired during Saturday morning cartoons, or how kids might be influ- enced by the bad behaviors sometimes modeled by celebrities on TV, in movies or in magazines.
These days, kids are exposed to media in many new ways—a phone in hand gives kids access to social media, news, entertain- ment, video games and more. Kids are also engaged with media for more time each day than ever before. According to The Critical Media Project, by the time kids reach high school they spend more time with media than they spend getting instruction in class—about nine hours each day with media versus five hours a day of direct instruction!
"As audiences...we have to become, and this is right down to kindergarten and first grade, better, more critical readers, listeners, viewers,” says Knight.
Kids are not just consumers of media, they’re creators, too. You don’t have to be the latest YouTube sensation to contribute to media— when you post a picture, write a comment, share a post or send a text, you are contributing to the media maelstrom. Because media is such a huge part of our lives, it’s important to carefully consider the source of the message. When you see a post, video or meme, ask yourself, “Who made this, and what message are they trying to send?”
According to Susan Knight, “I think we’re in a really critical age...because of social media and the availability of all kinds information with all kinds of different purposes—and it’s all mixed in together.” Knight was a reporter with the Arizona Daily Star and is now an associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Journalism.
“As audiences...we have to become, and this is right down to kindergarten and first grade, better, more critical readers, listeners, viewers,” says Knight. “With all of the information that we hear, it’s so important to think about where is it coming from.”
The Importance of the Press
As Americans and global citizens, it’s good to stay well-informed, including keeping up with the news. And traditionally, people got their news from the press. But this is only part of the important work of the press.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the right of the people to assemble peaceably and the freedom of the press. Knight points out that a free press is a cornerstone of a working democracy—“keeping our government honest and operating by the people for the people, not by some people and for some people,” she explains.
That news you read in the newspaper or magazine, listened to on radio or viewed on TV was, for the most part, trustworthy. “Journalists have always had a set of standards for truth and for being comprehensive,” Knight says. “When you’re a journalist, it’s all supposed to be true and real and comprehensive, meaning that you include all relevant material (information).”
But the internet and social media have been a game changer over the last decade or so in how we take in news and other information. And this digital age brings us mind-boggling amounts of information, often in an instant!
The good news is that there’s much more news and info out there. You could say we’re swimming in it (or maybe even drowning in it). The bad news is that information put in front of you may or may not be true—you have to ask questions, figure out its origins, and even be a bit SKEPTICAL. “Anybody can put information out there,” Knight warns.
Become Media Smart!
Is what just popped up on my screen true? Is the search engine giving me all results or is it just showing what it thinks I’m interested in? Are Russian bots (automated software that runs over the internet) really putting up divisive and false posts on Face- book, Twitter and other social media to try to influence our elections? Is all this talk of fake news real or not?
“We’re at a very critical time when it’s very important to understand where is information coming from, who’s creating that information, is it true. That’s the most important question—is it true?,” Knight says.
These are some of the key concepts of media literacy. “Media literacy is the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they’re sending,” according to Common Sense Media, a non-profit set up to help young people succeed in this sometimes confusing world of media and technology.
“Disinformation is more evil. It’s people who are trying to twist reality because of power or profit,” Knight said.
Many kids these days are good with technology, and it’s important to note that if you’re a Bear Essential News Young Reporter, if you create videos or funny memes— you are creating media!
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there.
“There’s a difference between misinformation and disinformation. One easy way to understand that is that misinformation means that it’s a mistake,” Knight explains. “Disinformation is more evil. It’s people who are trying to twist reality because of power or profit.”
So How Do You Become More Media Smart?
By using critical thinking as you read a story. “You’re filtering it, and you’re comparing that information to other information, meaning you might have to look up other sources,” Knight encourages.
Journalists attribute where their facts are coming from. So Knight suggests you check to see if there are attributions throughout story—are there sources for the facts. You also can look to see if there’s a list of sources or citations at the end of an article.
“Another part of media literacy is to tease out what is fact and what is opinion. As a reader or a viewer or a listener, I need to pay attention to what I’m hearing, is it fact or is it opinion? And if it’s opinion, is it based on good information?,” she explains.
The Responsibility of Reporters: Accuracy
Journalists are responsible for reporting facts in an unbiased way. It’s important for all reporters, including Young Reporters, to do their best to present the unvarnished, objective facts without letting their own opinions intrude. Reporters who intentionally mislead the public can lose their credibility, respect, and even their jobs.
“For Young Reporters and those generating media...I have one motto for them— ‘tell the truth, tell the whole truth.’ For me, that’s what journalism is all about,” says Knight.
The Society for Professional Journalists has a code of ethics based on four principles: seek the truth and report it; minimize harm (respect a person’s rights and feelings, especially those who are not in public office or in positions of power); act independently (don’t take favors or be in debt to a person or company), and be accountable and transparent.
For reporters, young and old, Knight emphasizes, “Tell the truth, tell the whole truth, and keep an open mind!”