J-schools should teach media literacy . . . plus

tn_head-case.jpg Graphic from the Information Literacy Project at Beloit College in Wisconson. Details below.

Poynter Institute commentator Steve Klein hits the nail on the head when he writes:

“Journalism programs should be in the business of media literacy, not just training journalists. That should be a campus-wide goal that engages majors from every department.”

Klein, a journalism professor at George Mason University,  suggested this effort would help college students become better citizens and better enable them to think for themselves (“There’s a concept for you!” he quips).

All well and good but let me add some additional, hard-nosed reasons why this campus-wide media literacy effort makes institutional sense. Journalism programs cannot keep training majors for evaporating mass media jobs. Meanwhile with the proliferation of media — desktop publishing, video and audio, web publishing — many people will dabble in media for professional, political or artististic reasons.

In a network world, media literacy equates to business and professional literacy. Here I mean more than the sensible consumption of news as suggested above. On the flip side it will be vital for anyone with a mission — building a company, a movement, a scientific or cultural consensus, or any cooperative human endeavor — to learn how to tell stories. Is that not one lesson of the Bible that, with no intention at all of being profane, applies equally to Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book?

How do we define journalism? Surely it is more than the work done by the employees of major media organizations, though one would hope their work would offer the best examples. Let’s brand journalism more broadly as the discipline that sticks to the facts.  Journalists believe that it is possible and desirable to fairly distill the essence of any situation; and they try to  present stories in such a way as to help people make up their own minds. 

It makes sense to teach every student a bit of media literacy. And a bit of journalism. They’re likely to need both to succeed.


(I found the above graphic by searching for an image under the word “literacy.” Was that by design? That would be my guess because the Information Literacy Project is a wealth of presentations, course outlines and other aides to help teachers think about how to foster skepticism, awareness and rational thinking — again, what a concept!)