Consuming News in a “Post-Truth” Era

Last year, the DePaul University Library joined libraries, museums, scientific organizations, and others in promoting the Day of Facts, “an international social media campaign allowing … trusted public sources of knowledge to share mission-related content … as this relates to the role of these institutions in promoting an educated public and an informed electorate.” Like our #DayofFacts partners, our library was responding to the rising concern about “fake news” and its impact on politics and society in the United States, and abroad. We continued that discussion with faculty colleagues later in the Spring as part of a program sponsored by DePaul’s Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence, focusing on “how libraries can help” fight fake news. Unfortunately, the issues highlighted in these programs did not disappear at the turn of the new year.

Ongoing conflict between the President of the United States and the news media has resulted in changing perceptions of public trust in traditional media outlets, and recent research by the Pew Research Center demonstrates the continuing challenges associated with discovery, evaluation, and use of news information found online, as well as the increasing use of online sources for news across the lifespan. Research reported in a new book by USC professor Safiya U. Noble documents how the technology underlying the search engines that drive much of our discovery online may be biased against certain communities, and Facebook, the nexus of many of the “fake news” discussions of 2016 and 2017 has announced that it will address this problem by simply “letting users decide” which news media outlets they trust. The need for librarians and faculty to work together to promote critical media literacy among our students so that they will be prepared to make informed evaluations of the news sources they employ in their academic work, and beyond, has never been greater.

In order to gain a better sense of where today’s students stand in terms of their media literacy in this “post-truth” era, DePaul University will participate in a national study of “how students consume news” being conducted this Spring by Project Information Literacy and its faculty partners at Northeastern University and Wellesley College. One of only 10 data collection sites for the study, DePaul’s participation in the study will allow us to gain important information about student information skills and habits, and will inform broader approaches to media literacy education for young adults, both those in school and those who are not, as well as approaches to information policy development, design of discovery platforms, and public discourse on the role of the media in our democracy. We hope you will encourage any of your students selected as part of the DePaul University student survey population to take part.

While we await the results of this upcoming study, our librarians remain available to assist you in designing instructional programs and information literacy assignments for your courses that are aligned with our undergraduate learning goals and informed by the most current discussions of “fake news” and “news literacy.” Please contact Jessica Aversion, Assistant Coordinator for Library Instruction, with your request for instruction for your classes.

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