Worland: Recent events underscore urgent need for news literacy
Darragh Worland lays out the urgent need for news literacy education to readers of The San Francisco Chronicle in the Jan. 27 piece We need news literacy education in our schools — now! (Please note: Article is behind a paywall.)
She opens the piece by noting the role of conspiracy theories and misinformation in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. “Dear reader: By now you likely know that the shocking Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was largely the result of millions of Americans believing in an alternative reality (that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen, even though it wasn’t). The attack was a terrifying example of the destructive, harmful impact of disinformation.”
“The reality that an alternative information ecosystem can come dangerously to life provides even more urgency to the need for news literacy education as a national priority, taught in schools across the spectrum, from Bangor, Maine, to San Diego, Miami and Seattle. Failing to provide our children with the knowledge and skills needed to recognize credible and accurate information is more than a disservice — it’s disempowering, putting them at a significant civic disadvantage as they face a more complex information environment than ever before.
“If a student doesn’t understand the difference between a news story and an opinion column or how to spot dangerously misleading disinformation, the consequences can be dire. Those who believe falsehoods about COVID-19 have flouted public health guidelines, endangering family members and friends. Some have been sickened by ingesting bleach, touted falsely as a COVID-19 treatment; others have died as a result of taking false cures (one example).”
Worland also explains how the loss of standards-based sources of news is only worsening the problem.
“The number of quality, standards-based news organizations — especially at the local level — is shrinking. As news consumers let newspaper subscriptions lapse, gravitating instead to free online sources (many of which are not standards-based), advertisers follow. One in five newspapers across the country has closed, leaving communities across the country with little to no coverage and stripping them of their local watchdogs. By some estimates, 1,300 communities across the country lack any local news outlet, leaving them with no independent oversight of local government and business.
“Why should we care? that the loss of local news outlets results in greater polarization in voting, as residents retreat to those echo chambers online where their biases are encouraged and left unchallenged.
“Add to that a lack of appreciation for the role of a free press in a democracy and growing public disdain for journalists, and you have a recipe for what we saw on display at the Capitol.
“If we don’t teach the next generation of Americans what sets quality journalism apart, give them an appreciation for the central watchdog role journalists play in holding the powerful to account, or help them understand why democracy can’t function without a working independent news media, then we have no hope of turning this dangerous situation around.”