Learning the news: Engage each other in good faith

We can’t function as a society based on false information, information bubbles, distrust, anger, and unwillingness to engage each other in good faith, writes Roger Plothow.

Media literacy isn’t very complicated. It comes down to a few things.

1. Information found on social media or other Internet sources not based on sound principles of journalism is more likely to be wrong than right.

2. Therefore, know your sources and trust only those that make a specific and detailed commitment to vetting information.

3. If you want to go it alone, commit to pursuing information outside your “bias bubble” and vetting it yourself.

4. Finally, don’t share information until you’re reasonably certain it’s accurate.

That’s pretty much it. So, why have I spent 52 weeks writing about something so simple? Mostly, it was my attempt to provide the necessary evidence and argument that information is powerful and worth the effort to ensure it’s accurate.

Some people – most, perhaps – will continue to surround themselves with only information that reinforces their existing values and world view. As I’ve written before, it’s probably always been this way. The only difference today is the immediate and ubiquitous availability of information emerging from the Internet cesspool.

There are some encouraging signs. For example, the readership at some newspaper web sites – the New York Times, most obviously – is growing at a rapid pace.

Here at the Post Register, particularly once we admitted our mistake and brought back certain features we dropped in the spring, our circulation is on the rebound, too. I like to think that it’s due in some small part to our commitment to local journalism.

There are growing efforts from many quarters to emphasize media literacy in schools and organizations. This will help.

But we are still in a bit of a mess. It remains commonplace for people to post information on social media that is, well, fake. Many information consumers continue to live inside their information bubbles and are convinced they have the facts without making the necessary effort.

I don’t hold out much hope that a sea change is coming soon, particularly among people of my age, the Baby Boomers. We’re pretty set in our ways and we have found the Internet just the thing to reinforce whatever core beliefs we had when we discovered Google and Facebook.

When I committed to a year-long series on media literacy I had no illusions that I would change the world, though that’s always my goal. I mean, if you can’t change the world, at least a bit, what’s the point?

Perhaps, though, I’ve caused a few people to think. I hope so – it’s really all I can ask. The stakes are high. We can’t function as a society based on false information, information bubbles, distrust, anger and unwillingness to engage each other in good faith.

As the Center for Media Literacy espouses, the goal is for people to “control the interpretation of what they see or hear rather than letting the interpretation control them.”

Like I said, it’s simple.

Roger Plothow is editor and publisher of the Post Register. This is the last of a year-long weekly series on media literacy. He has prepared a 60-minute presentation on media literacy designed for classes, schools and organizations. Email him at rplothow@postregister.com to inquire about having him present to your group.