In an era when fake news travels faster than real news, it is paramount to be media literate. It’s not only a matter of teaching and guiding younger audiences to analyze and understand the media they are consuming every minute of the day, but rather a skill we must all use in thinking critically about the headlines they see and hear.
Promoting media literacy is especially important for communicators like us who create media. As public relations professionals, we encourage clients to be transparent and foster dialogue with influencers and customers. These best practices are essential in upholding a brand’s reputation and maintaining trust with key audiences. We must also seize opportunities to share any forgotten perspectives or offer a different angle in order to ensure media is balanced and accurate.1
The following checklist of questions not only serves to jump start conversations with young audiences, but is also a refresher for the rest of us who just as easily get caught up with sensational headlines and social media clickbait:
- Is this story real? Verify a story by identifying the original source, as well as checking multiple outlets. Identify the interview subjects and the research cited to ascertain their credibility. Check if the content was pulled from or simply republished from another source – are they credible as well?
- Who is the author of the story? Explore their past work to understand their reputation, including identifying any personal biases. Do they work for a larger company, and if so, does the outlet hold any interests (e.g. shareholders, corporate or political affiliates) that may affect the way the story is told?
- Is the story balanced? Identify which perspectives have been explored in the story. Are any missing? When checking multiple outlets, check for perspectives that haven’t already been included. Always consider “the other side” of the story in order to equip yourself with the full picture.
- What form of media was used? Consider how the story is told. Does the medium used impact the message? Does it make a difference if the story was printed on paper with still photos, broadcast on television with footage, or shared in a brief clip on social media?
- Is the content sponsored? Sponsored content often offers useful information, including tips, subject matter experts and relevant research. But it’s still a good idea to be mindful and apply the other media literacy fundamentals to ensure you have the full context for a story.
Have you had conversations about deciphering whether a story is real or fake? We’d like to hear about it at email@example.com.
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