Campus Voices Interest in News Literacy

Rachael Franchini ’19, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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Members of the Dickinson community expressed an interest in programs and increased conversation about news literacy and identifying credible sources.

Universities and colleges across the U.S. have started focusing more on providing courses and programs aimed at giving students the skills to determine the difference between real news and fake news. Stony Brook University in New York has started the News Literacy Summer Academy aimed at “equipping college students with news literacy skills,” according to a Sept. 18, 2018 article published by Education Dive. Syracuse University, Emory University and Sacred Heart University, among several others, currently offer courses in news and media literacy for students to take.

Students are open to the idea of Dickinson implementing such programs.

“I don’t think it would be a bad idea to have classes and programs for students to talk about real versus fake news,” said Emma Spector ’19, who is a Political Science and French & Francophone Studies major. “In my research methods class with [Assistant] Professor [of Political Science] Katie Marchetti, we went to the library when we were working on our literature reviews and the librarian talked to us about how to determine the credibility of the sources that we were using and gave us a brief lecture on real versus fake news.”

“I think that Dickinson could really benefit from, if not a course on this issue, at least a clear[er] emphasis on it when doing research for all classes regardless of subject,” said Geoffrey Cole ’20, a history major. “If it was something stressed more across the board then students would have an easier time understanding things they see in the media and would be able to make much more informed choices.”

Rich Lewis, an adjunct faculty member who teaches the only journalism class offered at Dickinson and is the advisor to The Dickinsonian, is interested in how news literacy applies to Dickinson.

“The issue of ‘news literacy’ in a community like Dickinson really breaks down into two separate questions,” stated Lewis. “First, how much do people follow the news at all, and, second, to the extent they do follow the news, are they making sure it’s coming from reliable sources. My impression is that relatively few Dickinson students follow the news closely, which is not good, but it’s understandable because they’re busy with classes and other activities. And the fact is, young people generally don’t follow the news closely, which is one reason that newspapers, for example, are struggling to survive.”

Ian Boucher, information literacy librarian and library liaison for economics, educational studies, film and media studies, international business and management, international studies, political science and sociology, has visited several classes to talk about news literacy and building proper skills to evaluate sources.

“There’s so much information out there and it’s important to be able to identify the sources that are going to be the most valuable, the most reliable, that are going to help us figure out what we’re trying to figure out,” he stated. “…It’s also very tempting to just read things that you’re comfortable with… A lot of the info we see is geared towards our preferences and it’s important for us to be able to build these information literacy skills so that we can not only find the most reliable info out there, but we can minimize our own biases.”

“[Boucher] came to my educational studies class to talk about finding reliable sources and how to spot sources that are meant to be a joke or that are misrepresented based on a biased platform,” stated Addie Downs ’19, an educational studies major. 

Assistant Professor of Political Science Sarah Niebler said that the students that she has in her political science classes are relatively well-read when it comes to news. 

“Folks who are drawn to political science classes tend to be drawn to them because they talk about news and public affairs and so those students tend to pay attention to the news more in depth than I think other students might, and certainly more than other Americans do,” she stated. “So, in some ways it’s hard for me to tell whether Dickinson is doing a good job or a not as good a job [at news literacy education], because the students I see are very knowledgeable.”

“A big part of information literacy and instruction in general is helping students build the skills to find reliable information for whatever they’re looking for—classes or daily lives,” Boucher stated.

Both Boucher and Niebler stressed the importance of readers understanding sources they do not necessarily agree with.

“You could know that something is reliable but then just defend a source that isn’t reliable just because you’re comfortable with it,” stated Boucher.

“I do think it’s important for us all, students, faculty, administrators, everyone to be critical consumers of information and… we should always be asking the question ‘what is the context of this story?’” said Niebler. “I’m always a little bit weary of the word ‘bias’, and I talk about this in a lot of my classes, too, that I don’t like that term because I think the word biased lets us off the hook…saying ‘this is biased therefore I’m not going to pay attention to it.’ No; it’s still important to pay attention to it because it’s still giving us information, about maybe not what we think about the world but what other people might be learning about the world.”

Members of the Dickinson community across the board have voiced support for any programs or efforts that the college could institute. 

“I think good citizenship requires an awareness of current events, and I would strongly support any effort to get more students engaged in following the news,” stated Lewis. “Keeping up with the news, and making sure you’re getting the whole story, or at least most of the story, can take a lot of time and effort, but it’s the only way to make informed decisions, which is the heart of good citizenship.”

Cole maintains that Dickinson is a news-literate campus, but that he would be in favor of increased conversation on the issue.

“…any time you isolate yourself ideologically, like it is easy to do here, opinions will become siloed rather than appreciative of all sides,” he said. “I would strongly support any effort to get more programs or courses to educate students on reliable sources.”

“The reason I became a librarian is because we have so many issues with taking in information,” stated Boucher. “You can’t just know how to read and be literate now, you have to be able to navigate all of the information out there.”