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Media Literacy in a Fake News World

A research guide compiling online and print resources and organizations that promote news and media accuracy and consumer awareness of accurate and false news.

Why Media Literacy is Important


Image accessed October 26, 2017 from



What is Media Literacy?
For centuries, literacy has referred to the ability to read and write. Today, we get most of our information through an interwoven system of media technologies. The ability to read many types of media has become an essential skill in the 21st Century. Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media. Media literate youth and adults are better able to understand the complex messages we receive from television, radio, Internet, newspapers, magazines, books, billboards, video games, music, and all other forms of media. Media literacy skills are included in the educational standards of every state—in language arts, social studies, health, science, and other subjects.  Many educators have discovered that media literacy is an effective and engaging way to apply critical thinking skills to a wide range of issues. 
Media Literacy Project’s approach to media literacy education comes from a media justice framework. Media Justice speaks to the need to go beyond creating greater access to the same old media structure. Media Justice takes into account history, culture, privilege, and power. We need new relationships with media and a new vision for its control, access, and structure. Media Justice understands that this will require new policies, new systems that treat our airways and our communities as more than markets.
Media literacy skills can help youth and adults:
- Develop critical thinking skills

- Understand how media messages shape our culture and society

- Identify target marketing strategies

- Recognize what the media maker wants us to believe or do
- Name the techniques of persuasion used 

- Recognize bias, spin, misinformation, and lies 

- Discover the parts of the story that are not being told
- Evaluate media messages based on our own experiences, skills, beliefs, and values 

- Create and distribute our own media messages

- Advocate for media justice

10 Universal News Drivers

The 10 Universal News Drivers
  • Importance: When the information has serious implications
  • Prominence: When the story is news because of who is involved
  • Human Interest: A unique or universal experience exploring the human condition
  • Conflict: Clashes of people, institutions or ideas
  • Change: Progress, setbacks -- accounts of changes that will affect the audience
  • Proximity: Local events whose proximity to the audience increases their news value
  • Timeliness: Anniversaries, holidays or deadlines – the calendar is the crucial context of the story
  • Magnitude: Stories driven by numbers, very large or unusually small
  • Relevance: How wide is the story’s impact and audience?
  • Unusualness: Alerts and diverts – something strange that doesn’t usually happen every day


From; accessed December 2, 2017.

Know Your Information Neighborhood

Know Your Information Neighborhood
Be clear about what news neighborhood you are in to determine what kind of news you are seeking or avoiding.


You'll see that there are distinct goals and outcomes for each neighborhood, which are outlined at the top. While each neighborhood has distinct differences, there are times where the lines between each can get a little blurry. 

For instance, news (labeled as "journalism" above) is pretty well spelled out -- but you might wonder about entertainment news, or news about celebrities.
 Adapted from the work of Michael Spikes and the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University.

When Information Becomes News

How to determine when information becomes news


Verification - A process of collecting evidence that establishes or confirms the accuracy or truth of something.
Independence - Freedom from the control, influence, or support of interested parties, coupled with a conscious effort to set aside any preexisting beliefs and a system of checks and balances.
Accountability - Being responsible or answerable for your work.

Adapted from the work of Michael Spikes and the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University.

What is Journalistic Truth?




Truth is a statement of probability proportional to the evidence.


Journalistic truth is provisional; today's evidence can be overridden by tomorrow's discovery


Breaking news is chaotic. Errors do not denote bias.


Key lesson: Follow the story over time.



Adapted from the work of Michael Spikes and the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University.

The Quest for the Truth


Look for evidence; ask where it comes from.
Truth will most likely emerge when news stories include a variety of perspectives.
Put the facts in CONTEXT
Is the report TRANSPARENT?
  • "could not be reached"
  • "requested anonymity because she feared losing her job"
  • "The information could not be independently verified"


 Adapted from the work of Michael Spikes and the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University.



Always ask

  • What do I know?
  • How do I know it?
  • What DON'T I know?



Adapted from the work of Michael Spikes and the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University.

Balance, Fairness, and Bias


How do I know that a story is FAIR?

How do I know that a story is BALANCED?



  • Marked by impartiality and honesty
  • Free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritsm
  • Being fair to the evidence


Fair Language

  • "pro-life" vs. "anti-abortion"
  • "pro-choice" vs. "abortion rights advocate"
  • "illegal alien" vs. "undocumented immigrant"


Fair Presentation

  • Avoids prejudicial photos
  • Presents photos and other visuals that are appropriate to the report


Fair Play

  • Obvious effort to include relevant perspectives
  • People, organizations get to respond to negative charges and claims



  • Equality between the totals of two (or more) sides of an account
  • Balance is a quantitative measurement


Balance is necessary in a news report when there is an an unknown, developing, or disputed element in a story.


While fairness may sometimes require balance, the misuse of balance can create false equivalency in a story.



  • A predisposition that distorts your ability to weigh fairly the evidence and prevents you from reaching a fair and accurate judgment.
  • A pattern of unfair play


What isn't bias

Journalistic opinions and editorials may give the appearance of bias but are not if they are clearly marked.


Spotting bias

  • Compare news coverage to editorials
  • Compare a variety of news outlets
  • Watch for a pattern of unfairness over time


Confronting our own biases



  • Dissonance causes anxiety, stress, pain; your brain cares more about avoiding dissonance than learning the truth.
  • People distort or forget incoming information that disagrees with their point of view
  • People seek information that supports their point of view
  • Some cable channels offer viewers information with a mix of affirmation.


To find the truth, savvy news consumers should seek journalism from a variety of news outlets, including those that express opinions they disagree with.





Adapted from the work of Michael Spikes and the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University.


News Sources


Ask About News Sources
  • Who is the source?
  • How does this source know?
  • Are other sources saying the same thing?
  • Is it verified fact or assertion?
  • What is the source's self-interest?


Judging the Reliability of Sources (IMVAIN)

  • INDEPENDENT sources are better than self-interested sources
  • MULTIPLE Sources are better than single sources
  • Sources who VERIFY are better than sources who assert
  • AUTHORITATIVE/INFORMED sources are better than uninformed sources
  • NAMED sources are better than unnamed sources


 Evaluating Anonymous Sources

  • Transparency - what did they know?
  • Characterization - how did they know it?
  • Corroboration - are there others that say the same thing?


 Adapted from the work of Michael Spikes and the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University.

Deconstructing the News

Deconstructing the News - 7 Steps for judging reliability

Identify the main points of the story. Ask yourself if the lede/headline match those main points.
Does the reporter follow through in presenting all the evidence, providing irrefutable proof of the point he is making? Is the evidence direct or indirect?
Evaluate the reliability of the sources using IMVAIN.
Does the reporter make his/her work TRANSPARENT?
Does the reporter place the story in CONTEXT?
Are the key questions answered, or is there something missing?
Is the story FAIR?
 Adapted from the work of Michael Spikes and the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University.