Thursday, May 20, 2010

Democracy at stake?

Navigating information in the Digital Age

I feel the need to follow up on the last post about the photo manipulation at The Dominion Post in Morgantown, WV.
I'd like to address a wider issue than the use of photography in communicating the news. I'm truly curious how the public feels about the information available on the internet from endless sources.

I have an idea that I put forth in a response to a comment on a previous post about Adobe Photoshop:

I personally believe one of the biggest problems in our society is ambivalence towards information and media, in general. We are ravenous consumers of information, but essentially ignorant about the processes and motivations behind the information we ingest. I honestly believe that our education, starting in high school and continued into college, ought to incorporate instruction in media literacy.

Classes that not only include an understanding of different kinds of media, but that also include an introduction to the editorial process and journalistic ethics. The public needs to understand what makes information reliable and believable so they can make informed choices in life.

Is democracy itself at stake, or is that overstating the issue?

Can we generate some discussion about that?


  1. Great idea, Scott! I, too, worry about the complacency toward the news media. The photo manipulation at that U.S. paper is a prime example. The only acceptable reaction to that photo should be outrage. There is no justification for monkeying with a news image, just as there is no justification for falsifying the facts of a news story. Perhaps if the public was better educated about the ethics of journalism those of us in the industry who've forgotten the meaning of ethical journalism wouldn't be so quick to pull stunts such as that.

  2. Thanks for your comment Catherine.

    I constantly see evidence that most people simply don't understand the traditional editorial process: gathering information, sifting through it, scrutinizing it, and figuring out how to present it in a way that is relevant and useful to an audience. There's a distinct process that so many are completely unaware of.

    There's a lot of shoddy journalism being produce out there by so-called professionals, but people don't recognize what makes it shoddy. From my personal observation, most seem to have a hard time distinguishing between a news article and an opinion column.

    When you read a news item, you should be asking if the reporter has properly cited sources of information. Is there evidence of fact-checking and cross-referencing. Was there an effort to examine multiple points-of-view?

    One of the most misunderstood and misapplied notions about journalism is that of objectivity. In my opinion, objectivity is not the objective. It's a bit of a myth, in fact. Every person brings their own set of experiences and values through which they view and understand the world. It's unavoidable. I think it's more useful to apply the concepts of fairness and accuracy as benchmarks for good journalism instead of objectivity.

    Folks need to be able to discuss concepts like fairness, accuracy, objectivity, and bias in an intelligent way, from a position of knowledge. And I think those concepts and how they come into play in journalism is a mystery to most.

    It's ironic, because journalism is all about communication. Yet, journalists themselves do a very poor job of explaining how they do their job and why it's important.

    There always a lot of talk about teaching students how to learn. These days, I don't see how you can learn anything unless you can figure out what sources of information to trust.

  3. Couldn't have said it better myself:)


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