Monday, November 12, 2012

Verify, independence, accountable

Note: In part two of a three-part series based on a Q&A with former Post Register Managing Editor Dean Miller, we look at how the Internet can be used intelligently. Miller is the director of the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York.

Is the Internet like fire – in the right hands it can save lives (or make them more comfortable), but used wrongly it can destroy? Does the generation that has always known a world in which the Internet exists really know how to use it?

“If by that you mean, ‘How sophisticated are young ’uns at telling the difference between hooey and verified information from independent sources?… I’d say they are no more, or less, sophisticated than their parents and grandparents,” Miller writes. “The focus of my work in the coming years will be to learn if teaching students about cognitive dissonance can inoculate them against their worst reactions to their discomfort with facts they don’t like.”

Education, Miller says, can make a difference.

"From two longitudinal studies, we already know that students who take News Literacy consume a wider variety of news sources, score better on civic knowledge tests and are a year ahead of their peers in their ability to spot imbalanced reporting.”

I ask, "how is this taught?" (And now, I give over the rest of this column to Miller):

"I guess the simple summary is that we teach a combination of classical critical thinking lessons and modern media savvy, using each day’s news as the course text. We comb the web for positive and negative examples and use them to shake students’ complacency about Google searches and Wikipedia research, social media and mainstream media.
“Some examples:
“Here’s an interactive online game I helped script with several other organizations. In it, you play the role of Lakshmi, a young law student who has to make important decisions about what to do during a modernized Three Mile Island-type nuclear incident. What information is reliable? What is not? Readers may enjoy the give and take:
“The first thing students learn is to pay attention to what information neighborhood they are in. Advertising, publicity, entertainment and propaganda have legitimate roles to play and can be useful. But for reliability, we teach students to look for information outlets that verify before publication, hold their reporters to strict standards of independence and are accountable for their work. Easily remembered, it’s VIA: Verify, independence, accountable.
“Responsible operators (like the Post Register) post the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics code on their home page and encourage readers to hold them accountable to it. Irresponsible operators would prefer you not know they are violating the code of journalism.”

Next week: Journalism and the “long game.”

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