Timely media literacy course to examine fake news, misinformation

collage of news clippings saying various thingsView print quality image
Open to all juniors and seniors, regardless of major, Media Literacy (JOUR-J 460) will explore the topic of "fake news" and its effects on American media. Photo by Getty Images

In an age of information overload, a timely IUPUI course will help students decipher the noise and identify fake and factual news.

Media Literacy (JOUR-J 460) is being taught this semester by Chris Lamb, chair of the Department of Journalism and Public Relations in the School of Liberal Arts. The three-credit course will take place from noon to 1:15 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in a hybrid format and is open to all IUPUI juniors and seniors, regardless of major.

Headlines from the current news cycle will guide this well-timed examination of the news media, misinformation and their effects on democracy.

Inside IUPUI previewed the course with Lamb, who shared why now is an appropriate time for a deconstruction of the news.

Q: What was the genesis for the course, and why now?

Chris Lamb: My take on media literacy will be based heavily on what President Donald Trump has called "fake news." This course, as I have designed it, could not have existed before Donald Trump became president and began attacking the news media as "fake news." Trump did not intend to raise substantive criticisms of the news media as an institution. If he had done this honestly, it would have been a conversation worth having. Instead, his objective was to discredit the news media and therefore discredit any criticism of him and, in doing so, seize power in the way authoritarian despots have long done.

Q: Why should students who aren't studying journalism care about media literacy?

CL: A course in media literacy, whether its focus is on the news or on the media in general, should be taught in elementary school, when brains are being developed. The media have a profound impact on us in ways most of us don't understand. We need to be aware of anything that plays so heavily on the sensibilities of so many. We need to understand not just the role of the news media in society but how news is created, gathered and disseminated.

Q: How do you classify media literacy?

CL: Thomas Jefferson understood that a democracy depends on informed citizens. It is the duty of journalists, as The New York Times says, "to give the news impartially without fear or favor, regardless of any party, sect or interest involved." Our democracy requires credible journalists who act according to the best practices of journalism. This is undermined by phony journalists and phony news networks that engage not in reporting news but in propaganda.

Q: "Fake news" has become a frequently heard phrase in the national conversation. How will this class distinguish between truth and fiction?

CL: This question strikes at the core of my class. One of the objectives is to distinguish between truth and fiction, and one way of doing that is for students to identify the sources of the information they believe. Credible journalism exists because journalists and editors follow certain standards, routines and practices to get at the truth. They engage in reporting and research and identify the sources of their information. Facts require hard work. Making up stuff doesn't. Real news is necessary for a democracy; fake news is toxic to a democracy.

Q: We are nearly always within arm's reach of news. There's the never-ending flow of social media content, push alerts to our phones, 24-hour news networks and so much more. How will this class explore the variety of media by which news is disseminated?

CL: Yes, the 24-hour news model has contributed to the distortion of news and the weakened state of journalism and of democracy. But news websites, at least legitimate ones, include links to their sources. This gives the consumer of the news the ability to check out for him- or herself the legitimacy of that source. Whether we're interested in journalism or in democracy, we should be vigilant in identifying the source of our news, just as we should understand what is in the foods we eat, the liquids we drink and the air we breathe.