Julian McDougall is professor in media and education, head of the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice and principal fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He edits Media Practice and Education, runs the professional doctorate (Ed D) in creative and media education at Bournemouth University and convenes the annual International Media Education Summit.
In the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice at Bournemouth University, we recently published recommendations from our research into the role of media literacy in developing the resilience of young people to 'information disorder'.
The project, funded by the United States Embassy in London, generated dialogue between media educators, journalists, students and information professionals, to address the educational response to mis- and disinformation.
Our project site presents a comprehensive field review, workshop videos, presentations of our findings, a participant blog, full project report, recommendations for policy and practice and a 'top ten' toolkit of media literacy resources selected by the stakeholders for dealing with misinformation.
A fuller account of the ethnography is provided in the book "Fake News vs Media Studies: Travels in a False Binary" (Palgrave Macmillan).
The good news is that there is, potentially, a healthy situation already in UK schools. We have media studies, which does critical capacity, with a focus on mediated information.
Journalists are keen to engage with media students. Many of the resources in our toolkit are from newspapers and news broadcasters and there is such an obvious 'win-win' in journalists supporting media education in this era of misinformation.
We have information professionals working on the same project, with information literacy and a direct reference to misinformation in the Great School Libraries strategy.
So, if we made media studies mandatory, partnered up with journalists for the industry expertise and school librarians to support the underpinning information literacy, we would be in a good place to deal with this situation.
But we have some unnecessary obstacles.
Media studies is taken by a small minority of students, seen as a 'lightweight' subject by politicians, the 'top' universities and, in a crazy act of self-harm, often by journalists, as the subject is so often ridiculed by the media.
In December 2018, a panel convened at Oxford University by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism debated a newly-published European Commission action plan on disinformation.
The Institute's director, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen underlined the challenge of positioning 'real' journalism as the solution to the problems of disinformation when the industry itself is in crisis: "There's nothing less than a war on journalism taking place across the world," he said.
The panel agreed that “fighting back is mission central”, in the form of a robust re-booting of professional and ethical values and practices within the industry. My book sets out a case, from evidence gathered by the research project and supported by 25 interviews with journalists and teachers and 30 teaching strategies and resources, for how media studies can help journalism to fight back.
Media studies, if adopted as a mandatory subject for all students in all schools, would better equip young citizens with resilience to misinformation than reactive resources (such as fact-checking and verification tools) and small-scale projects which focus primarily on skills and competencies rather than critical thinking.
The latter is important and valuable as 'giving a fish', whereas media studies is more a case of 'teaching to fish'. Both are needed, but 'teaching to fish' is the key recommendation and The Times Education Supplement picked this up.
I encourage readers of this post to visit the open-access toolkit we developed from this research and use the 'top ten' resources in your work. Then, if you agree that fact-checking tools and online media literacy resources can help young people to become more resilient to misinformation but in the long-term a better approach has to be a sustained media literacy education for every student in every school, then ask - does it make sense to use media studies, linked to information literacy and in partnership with journalists, to get it done?
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