State Press Play: What is media literacy and why is it important?

Exploring the strategies ASU students can implement to tackle the threat of fake news


Podcaster Farah Eltohamy sits down with Kristy Roschke, managing director of the News Co/Lab at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Since its launch, the News Co/Lab has been conducting research and experiments to better understand how the public engages with news and information. Dr. Roschke gives her insight on how one can become "media literate" in this current age of misinformation. 


Farah Eltohamy: One growing problem in society today is the concern and the effects of fake news. In this current digital age, misinformation can spread like wildfire, especially with the help of social media and technological advances. One example is deep fake, which is artificial intelligence technology that can digitally forge someone's likeness and thus make the truth even harder to spot. 

Kristy Roschke: Hi my name's Kristy Roschke and I'm the managing director of the News Co/Lab, which is a new initiative at the Cronkite School that aims to help people find new ways of understanding how news works. 

Farah Eltohamy: Can you provide some insight on the work in the News Co/Lab?

Kristy Roschke: So the News Co/Lab is part research lab, part collaborator with newsrooms, educators and students of all ages. And essentially what we're trying to do is provide the tools for better understanding of how news works. We believe that news and media literacy are a community problem and that everyone in the community can play a role in helping combat misinformation by upgrading ourselves to better understand and be able to distinguish between quality news and information, and the bad stuff. 

Farah Eltohamy: Why do we need to refer to fake news as misinformation? 

Kristy Roschke: I think that fake news is a popular phrase right now but part of the problem with that is the way that it's being used. It's essentially been co-opted by people who want to call any kind of information that they don't like or they don't agree with, fake news. So you have a bunch of people just dismissing information altogether as, "Oh, that's just fake news." When really what we're talking about is a spectrum of information that can be anything from simple mistakes that happen regularly as part of the journalistic process, all the way through what we would call disinformation or "mal-information" which is when people actually make up false information with the intent to deceive and to harm people. 

Farah Eltohamy: You mentioned how one way to combat misinformation is through media literacy. Could you elaborate what media literacy is exactly? 

Kristy Roschke: The agreed upon definition for media literacy is the ability to analyze, evaluate, act on and create media messages. As we grow media literacy skills we are better able to discern which information is more believable, credible, accurate, those kinds of things that we tend to associate with journalistic information and basically the garbage. I like to think of someone who is media literate as having a good information diet. 

Farah Eltohamy: You've established that media literacy is important to the general public. However, how can this pertain specifically to college students? 

Kristy Roschke: I don't think you're ever too young to start learning media literacy skills. Young people start interacting with media from their earliest days. So when we're talking about college students, I mean every college student that I know spends an awful lot of time online on their phone interacting with different kinds of information, particularly through social platforms.

A lot of the research talks about Facebook and Twitter but I know that the younger crowd tends to congregate more regularly on Instagram, Snapchat, even YouTube is a huge purveyor of misinformation.

I recently learned at a conference that YouTube was the number one search engine for people under 25. And I think anyone who has ever been on YouTube for any length of time knows it can get pretty crazy pretty fast. Because of that constant interaction with information it is particularly important that young people and college aged people have a sense of what it is that they're looking at. When they see something on one of these platforms and they're thinking to themselves, "Should I believe this or not?" that they have some sort of embedded skills to answer that question. 

Farah Eltohamy: An issue that is really relevant to this conversation is the public's diminishing trust in news outlets and journalists. How do we bridge the gap between the two and improve the issue from both sides? 

Kristy Roschke: That is really one of the tenants that's courted in News Co/Lab, is that it can't just be people trying to fix themselves. That news organizations really do play an active role in not only sharing information and educating audiences through the stories that they write, but also explaining to them how those stories came to be. 

Because of this, this waning trust and this disconnect between audience and news provider, the news provider can no longer rest on that assumption that the audience is going to believe what they say. 

Some of the things that we do with the newsrooms we work with at the News Co/Lab involve being more transparent in the reporting process. So why did I choose to talk to the people that I did? Whose voice got cut out of story? Or why didn't I get this voice? Maybe someone didn't want to talk to me. By telling the audience I reached out to this person for comment and they never got back to me, that helps provide a little bit more context for the way a story was reported. 

Now I'm not suggesting that every story should include this whole backstory, but particularly for larger investigations, or if we're talking about public figures or that sort of thing. I think it's worth the time and the extra ink to say this is the way we reported this story. This is what we don't know yet. This is what we're still trying to figure out. It's a signal that you can trust us. You can trust me as a reporter because I'm doing the work that you aren't able to do and I'm doing it for you. Journalism truly is a public service. It's a community service. I think journalists believe that they're doing a community service, but unfortunately that feeling isn't always felt on the other side. And so what to do? Well we're going to have to play an active role in building up that trust and reiterating that what we're doing is for the good of the community. We can do that through more interaction with the community and more engagement with the people. 

Farah Eltohamy: What are just some basic tips you recommend on how to become more media literate?

Kristy Roschke: The good news is that there are some pretty practical skills that you can employ that don't take a lot of time. Even when you are totally inundated with a bunch of messages you should be able to do these things. 

The first thing that I'd like to suggest is when you see something, any kind of information passed by, in any form, take a minute. Do a gut check. Especially if it is evoking some sort of emotion in you, stop before you share. Stop and take a minute. Why is it that I want to share this information? I should probably read this information before I share it. That would be the first step. 

Once you're in an article or you know you're looking at a meme or whatever it might be, the next step would be to verify pieces of that information. If we're talking about a news article in any format, so if it's something related to politics or if it's something related to your favorite sports team and it feels sort of speculative or unclear, highlight that phrase in the article. Do a quick Google News search -- Google News is going to be preferable to Google because Google News is algorithmically sorting new sources out from the general Internet. If you can find another reputable news source to corroborate what you've read, then you're you're off to a better start. 

With an image, like in a meme, You can do a reverse image search on a meme. Actually, it's quite easy in Chrome. A reverse image search will tell you the origin of an image. This happens a lot with natural disasters. You might see some destruction from a hurricane for instance, and if there is currently a hurricane going on, a picture might get passed around from a previous hurricane that says, "Look at what's happening, the destruction that's happening right now!"

So that's one way. Then if you've never heard of the news organization that where the news is coming from, you can search that too. You can search it on Wikipedia. Wikipedia has entries for most news organizations. There's also a list of known hoax websites that you can find on Wikipedia. Certainly, that would be an easy way to find out if something that you're looking at is from a hoax or a website that's been labeled as fake news. 

Those are probably some quick easy tips that you could do with anything you see on the Internet. 

Farah Eltohamy: For the State Press, I'm Farah Eltohamy. 


Previous episodes: 

State Press Play: How can ASU students help local refugee youth achieve academic success?


Reach the reporter at feltoham@asu.edu and on Twitter @farahelto.

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