‘Media literacy’ advocates push to create savvier consumers of news and information, but critics say it’s a distraction from real journalism.
When Robert Shrum, a veteran newsman, was asked if he could name the best newspaper in the country, his answer came immediately: “The Wall Street Journal.”
Few, however, would have known that this single newspaper was, in fact, a national pillar of traditional news journalism, with a circulation of more than a million. It was the Washington Post before the Journal was the Wall Street Journal.
Shrum’s answer was correct; the Wall Street Journal is the gold standard of newspapers, no matter how small, no matter how obscure.
Then, as now, newspapers were as much instruments for social change and news gathering as they were vehicles for news.
But as society has become more interconnected, news media have become more fragmented. For generations, journalists wrote about the most important events and stories in a single newspaper. Then came the Internet, which has made it easier to search for and write about more than newsworthy events.
It is this fractured media world that some media literacy advocates are working to create, as they push for media reform.
They are championing education initiatives like the New Localism, a national teacher initiative that aims to help kids learn how to make informed decisions on their reading, writing and technological choices. They have pushed to get a federal agency, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to create a new channel devoted to local broadcasting, in part to address the news market’s fragmentation.
“Media literacy is a core part of a bigger, broader argument about our media ecosystem, saying that it isn’t only an issue for children and their parents, but it is also an issue for journalists and those who employ them,” says Sarah Boorstein, a media literacy advocate at the nonprofit Center for Media Justice in Boston.
“The fragmentation of the news media is an issue for everyone, but there are people who are committed to making sure that the community has access to information in order to participate in the political process,” she says. “There are journalists who would like to work in schools, who believe that they can have a positive, impactful impact on public education and have done so in other countries.”
But media literacy advocates say the debate over whether the public is too fragmented