How media literate are today’s students?

I’ve come across a few articles recently which ask whether today’s students have the right tools or experience to cope with the deluge of information that comes to them via their computers and hand-held devices.  This article, “Why Media Literacy is vital for Quality Journalism,” from Josh Catone at Mashable is really thought-provoking and it’s worth reading the comments after the article too (in fact, it’s nearly ALWAYS worth reading the comments after any article online these days!)  Basically, he argues that the definition of literacy changes as technology changes.  So, these days full literacy is not just about being able to read a book or newspaper and understand what you’re reading.  To be fully literate in 2011 you need to be able to consume social media that dumps a whole load of stuff on your screen and then still be able to work out what it all means.  So can today’s generation interpret a tweet and distinguish fact from gossip?  Do they know how and when to check before retweeting or hitting the LIKE button?  Is the future of journalism safe in their hands?  Josh Catone is worried that we’re OK for the time being because today’s journalists have a good grounding in critical thinking and fact-checking.  He’s worried that media literacy training won’t keep up with the “acceleration of the information stream.”

Lynne Russell writing for MediaShift is even more worried about the future of journalism and thinks today’s journalism students are “like no other, in that they were born with a smartphone in one hand and ear pods in the other. The world comes to them, not the other way around.”  This, she believes, has profound implications for their ability – and willingness – to treat all these fantastic sources with the sort of traditional scepticism that should be innate with journalists.  She works hard to teach them that just because something has gone viral and looks great on screen doesn’t mean it’s true.

But is this fair?  I’m a little uncomfortable with this.  It feels patronising.  Why should today’s students be any less able to learn journalistic principles?  Is it right to assume that they can’t distinguish between good and bad sources the way “we” can?

I don’t know.  I’ve not asked any yet.  But after reading these articles I’m going to because it’s a really interesting question.  My next lecture is about sourcing news stories and deciding if they’re reliable and newsworthy.  I’m going to get them into discussion groups to talk through some of these ideas.

I’ll report back!

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