Posted on: September 24, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Graphic by Sarah Kauffman

By Nick Stulga, JRN 111 Student

In this age of ever-increasing public distrust in the media, it would benefit us all to take a step back and assess our news before spreading it.

That was one of the key points in the discussion in part 2 of MV’s “Blame it on the Media: The Erosion of Trust and Truth and What We Can Do About It,” led by information literacy librarian Tish Hayes and journalism and communications professor Lisa Couch. The talk was given virtually via WebEx on Wednesday at 11 a.m.

Part 1 of “Blame it on the Media” explored the causes of the erosion of trust and truth.

While part 1 of the talk, which took place last spring, mainly covered why trust in our media institutions has been eroding over the years, part 2 takes a deeper dive into the issue, specifically focusing on a singular question: What can we do about it?

The internet has “flattened” information, said Hayes, leading us to see everything that comes across our social media feed as “news.”

We no longer have editors deciding what deserves headlines, so “we have to be our own editors and gatekeepers,” Couch said. “We constantly have to be asking ourselves, ‘What’s credible? What’s accurate?’”

Credibility is determined by the process of creation, Hayes said: Who is the intended audience of the post? How recent is the event? What kind of research goes into it? 

Accuracy of a piece can be determined by the SIFT method, she said. The steps are as follows: stop, investigate the source to make sure what you’re reading is legitimate, find better coverage if possible, and trace claims, quotes and media to the original context. In other words, find the original source the information is coming from.

The “SIFT” strategy developed by Mike Caufield is especially helpful when you come across information that makes you emotional, says information literacy librarian Tish Hayes.

The context of the news varies from social media posts, which are spur of the moment, to scholarly articles, which take excessive research. Understanding the context is essential when determining the credibility of a news piece, Hayes pointed out.

Hayes said in an interview after the event that in some scientific articles the study is taken out of context. For example, if someone reported on a study by saying, “Drinking coffee can extend your life,” but the study only observed a specific chemical in coffee and how it lengthened the lifespan of rats, the report would be misleading.

“The journalist made a big jump in asserting that drinking coffee can lead to a longer life,” Hayes said.

Another strategy known as lateral reading involves verifying the sources that your news is coming from.

“Lateral reading refers to the practice of opening up a new tab in your browser to search for information about the information source you are looking at,” Hayes said during the interview. “For example, if I’m reading an article found on the Atlantic website, I could google The Atlantic to find out what kind of publication it is.”

Even though many teachers have discredited Wikipedia, thinking that it can be easily edited and manipulated, Hayes says it’s a good starting point for lateral reading.

However, she warned of information on Wikipedia, saying that “the editorial process doesn’t kick in until someone’s already published that information.”

A final key is to talk to people from across the political spectrum, the speakers said. They could be family members, friends, neighbors. With algorithms creating “filter bubbles,” we often only see information that is designed to appeal to what we already think. Division is reinforced as people literally do not see the world in the same way.

Hayes recommends several websites to help us make sense of information we come across.

“Our worlds are not a Venn diagram sometimes,” Couch said. “There’s no crossover between my world and another person’s world.” She notes that “we really all have different worlds.” 

For this reason, it’s important to recognize and own your bias, Hayes said. Knowing where you align is important. If you’re only looking at people with similar views, you may need to open up to other people to see different perspectives.

“Our feelings impact so much: the way the information’s coming at us and what we do with the information that we found,” Hayes said.

Hayes advised reading things from both political sides to see where the spectrum of information and conversation falls, so you can formulate your own opinions and arguments based on the potential bias on each side of the spectrum, rather than just letting emotion take over.

Democracy Commitment Coordinator Kevin Navratil set up and moderated the event, though due to technical issues with WebEx, he was only about to get in a few understandable words. The Democracy Commitment is a national community college initiative with the goal of giving every graduate of an American community college an education in democracy.

Although Navratil is a political science professor, he doesn’t think we should let politics define us.

“You might have stark contrasts in your political views, but you have a lot in common outside of politics,” Navratil said an interview prior to the event. “It’s important for us to connect that way. Our political views and who we vote for are not the total sum of us… it’s part of our identities, but it’s not our entire identities.”