How to Be Media Literate

Expert tips to help you find information you can trust

By Lisa Szabo, '16 BA

September 10, 2021 •

The news media have undergone a transformation in the past decade. Many news organizations have consolidated, contracted and moved online, and independent media outlets have popped up to fill the gaps. Boil up these changes with increased political polarization, “fake news” and growing distrust of the media, and we’re left with an information stew no one quite recognizes — or feels good about eating. So, where do we go from here? Juliet Williams, ’96 BA, northern California news editor at The Associated Press, shares expert tips on how to consume a balanced media diet.

Don’t get duped by fake news

“Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of shell news organizations have popped up in the last few years, says Williams. These organizations — which exist on both sides of the political spectrum, she says — masquerade as credible sources but instead publish content with one perspective. To avoid getting duped, she suggests liberally using Google to ask questions like, “Is this a real news organization?”

Consider the sources

Any story that relies on a single source — that is, one person who provides all of the insight — isn’t giving a sufficient overview of the story, she says. If you read two stories that seem to be coming from opposite political viewpoints, enlist your critical thinking skills. “Ask yourself if the truth is somewhere in the middle,” she says, or if one side isn’t accurate at all.

Take a broad view

If you use one news source regularly, Williams advises broadening your scope. It takes effort to seek out content that comes from many sources and from many viewpoints. “A lot of the stuff that gets shared on Facebook is coming from one perspective or another, and that has heightened the distrust and divisions,” Williams says. She adds that people tend to seek news that reinforces their opinions, rather than looking at the whole story.

Pay for your news

The business model that used to sustain newspapers and magazines is in upheaval. Advertising doesn’t bring in the same revenue it once did. As a result, many outlets have introduced paywalls to stay afloat. Williams recommends supporting credible news outlets by paying for a subscription. “If you care about the news, and you want to see a stronger news industry, that’s the No. 1 way you can help it.”

Juliet Williams is one of many speakers to share expertise at alumni events. Visit uabgrad.ca/OnDemand for more content, including podcasts, online courses and webinars.

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