In an age of information overload, a timely IUPUI course will help students decipher the noise and identify fake and factual news.
Media Literacy (D-DAY 460) is taught this semester by Chris Lamb, chair of the Department of Journalism and Public Relations at the School of Liberal Arts. The three-credit course will take place from noon to 1:15 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays in a hybrid format and is open to all IUPUI juniors and seniors, regardless of major.
Headlines from the current news cycle will guide this timely examination of news media, disinformation and their effects on democracy.
Inside IUPUI previewed the course with Lamb, who explained why now is the time to deconstruct the news.
Q: What was the genesis of the course, and why now?
Chris Lamb: My take on media literacy will be heavily based on what President Donald Trump has called “fake news.” This course, as I designed it, could not have existed before Donald Trump became President and started attacking the media as “fake news“. Trump had no intention of substantively criticizing the media as an institution. If he had done it honestly, it would have been a worthwhile conversation. Instead, his goal was to discredit the news media and therefore discredit any criticism of him and, in doing so, seize power as authoritarian despots have long done.
Q: Why should students not studying journalism care about media literacy?
CL: A media literacy course, whether it focuses on current affairs or the media in general, should be taught in elementary school, when brains are developing. The media has a profound impact on us in ways that most of us don’t understand. We need to be aware of all that is playing so heavily on the sensibilities of so many people. We need to understand not only the role of news media in society, but also how news is created, gathered and disseminated.
Q: How do you classify media literacy?
CL: Thomas Jefferson understood that a democracy depends on informed citizens. It is the duty of journalists, as the New York Times puts it, “to report the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interest involved.” Our democracy needs credible journalists who act according to the best practices of journalism. This is undermined by fake journalists and fake news networks that do not engage in news dissemination but propaganda.
Q: “Fake news” has become a phrase frequently heard in the national conversation. How will this class distinguish between truth and fiction?
CL: This question strikes at the heart of my class. One of the goals is to distinguish between truth and fiction, and one way of doing this is for students to identify the sources of the information they believe. Credible journalism exists because reporters and editors follow certain standards, routines, and practices to uncover the truth. They engage in reporting and research and identify the sources of their information. Facts require hard work. Invent stuff no. Real news is necessary for a democracy; fake news is toxic to a democracy.
Q: We are almost always on hand for news. There’s the endless stream of content on social media, push alerts on our phones, 24-hour news networks and so much more. How will this class explore the variety of media through which news is disseminated?
CL: Yes, the continuous news model has contributed to the distortion of information and the weakening of journalism and democracy. But news websites, at least legitimate ones, include links to their sources. This gives the news consumer the opportunity to verify the legitimacy of that source for themselves. Whether we are interested in journalism or democracy, we must be vigilant in identifying the source of our information, just as we must understand what is in the food we eat, the liquids we drink and the air that we breathe.