Three ways to take personal responsibility for media literacy
There's a lot of talk these days about fake news, the spread of misinformation, and the confusion of "alternative facts." Here are three ways to evaluate the quality of information you are looking at when consuming the news.
You might be wondering why you can trust anything we say since we're journalists. We're not asking anyone to trust us or any other journalist, but instead, we're asking you to entrust yourselves to use the media critically.
Identify types of media
First, what is "the media?"
Media can be newspapers, broadcast news video packages, magazines, podcasts, billboards, advertisements, TV, books, and yes, propaganda. It's anything we share with a larger audience, or a means of mass communication. Media also can be stories or even memes shared across social media channels.
Think of it from a business owner's perspective. There is no "the media"—they are each individual, competing news businesses. Although there are large media conglomerates in the nation, Oregonians are familiar with how supporting local businesses can create a more thriving community.
This concept is the same in the news business. Local news outlets and local journalists are the backbones of national and international news, much like how local businesses are the backbone of Oregon's economy, something Gov. Kate Brown has cited often.
A July 2020 Pew Research study found most Americans believe local news outlets are the more credible sources of information about the pandemic. So, start first by reading your local news sources to build confidence and trust in your own media literacy abilities. For example, during the Portland protests and riots over the last few years, many national outlets used photos and stories from our local journalists already on the ground and distributed our reporters' work more widely.
There also are different types of media like advertising, propaganda, opinion editorials and political commentary. None of these are journalistic news. For example, popular political commentators people commonly confuse with news are Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity. This type of content is meant to be a commentary or analysis on political news to help give people context—but in itself, it is not journalistic news.
Second, check out the primary sources being cited. Primary sources are original documents, such as studies that have been published, diaries, manuscripts, autobiographies, official surveys, expert or stakeholder interviews, and reports. Look for websites that end in ".gov" or ".org" or ".edu" as an easy first step to checking primary sources.
If the news you are reading is a good secondary source as journalism is meant to be, it will name these studies or interviews, so you will be able to check out the primary sources within one click or search.
That said, it is extremely difficult to publish scientific and university studies because of the peer review process, which is why we generally trust the results of these scientific professionals. As an example, with the coronavirus pandemic, would you trust a study from a single doctor, or a study published by Johns Hopkins University?
Good journalism does not tell readers what to think. Instead, it tells readers what to think about and draw their own conclusions.
Read as much as possible
But how do you know you can trust a news source not to have a bias?
You don't. The best you can do is get your news from as many sources and angles as possible. Go ahead and watch Fox News, read the New York Times, CNN, BBC, The Guardian, The Associated Press, Poynter, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, Al Jazeera and Reuters. Read the Portland Tribune, Willamette Week, The Oregonian, The Columbian and The Mercury. Maybe you want to follow a niche news source you're interested in, such as Bloomberg's CityLab for urban planners or The Washington Post's The Lily for millennial women.
Instead of following your favorites on social media, you can download the apps for each publication so you can see every set of front-page headlines in your notifications without any social media algorithms affecting what you see. Or, if you're the type who hates cluttering up your phone with apps, most newspapers have newsletters you can sign up for on specific beats so that you can get the top headlines from your favorite topics emailed straight to you.
Studies show when communities have access to local news, the people are more involved in civic procedure, facilitating the democratic process—the voices of the people, who are well-informed on current events, are heard and shared.
Unfortunately, at least 900 communities across the United States have completely lost local community newspaper coverage since 2004. More than 90 local newspapers in the nation have shuttered their newsrooms since the COVID recession began, and an estimated 37,000 journalists, including those working for Pamplin Media, have suffered cutbacks or furloughs, according to recent Poynter tallies and The New York Times.
Does the diminishing role of newspapers reach to the unrest and protesting we've seen across the country? In some ways, yes, because it's leading to polarized opinions and the feeling that different people aren't being heard, their voices have no place to be represented, and government decisions aren't reflective of their opinions.
If you want to help build Portland and Oregon back up, create a relationship with your favorite local news company and perhaps strike a deal for some advertising space. You're helping your local newspaper, your community and your own business—while holding your local politicians and government officials accountable.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.