By Katie Berger
Journalism and public relations school are both very different now versus 20 or 30 years ago. Smartphones have put a powerful computer in everyone’s pocket, making it possible for anyone to be a citizen journalist. Plus, there is now more information circulating the web than ever before. In the midst of today’s 24/7 news cycle and the ever-increasing spread of disinformation, media literacy is imperative to know what sources of media you can rely on. Media has become an intimidating space to enter because of the decreasing trust in media outlets.
As a college senior preparing to enter a career in the media and communications industry, I have learned through internships, classes and my own personal news diet how crucial it is to be a smart media consumer. Here are a few of the biggest media literacy lessons I’ve learned.
Diversify your sources
The first ever University of Texas class I walked into was called News Literacy, and it profoundly shaped the way I consume media. Here, I learned that one must diversify their sources in order to get a well-rounded understanding of the news media. This is because of a phenomenon called confirmation bias. If you continually consume news from one point of view, the internet’s complicated algorithms will consistently serve sources that affirm your existing beliefs, leaving you in a vacuum. If you only see what you want to see, you’ll end up with a severely skewed perception of reality.
When writing, do your research and fact check everything
Universities are facing a difficult job. They are tasked with teaching foundational basics dating back decades simultaneously with new skills that have developed in recent years. This includes teaching students the foundations of ethical, factual and non-sensational journalism while also teaching brand new skills, such as how to identify bots and maneuver algorithms. Both work in tandem to build the next generation of communications professionals who know how to navigate the chaotic media landscape that now exists on the internet. Media professionals must be unrelenting about fact-checking their content in order to avoid a PR crisis and maintain credibility.
Media relations is your friend
Through my three public relations internships, I’ve learned that earned media coverage is vital for an organization. Forming relationships with trustworthy journalists at reputable publications is key when you work in PR. Third party endorsement holds more weight and credibility than saying it yourself or buying it via one of many forms of advertising. My experience in media relations thus far has set me up for career success with two primary lessons: 1) learning the value of trusted connections with journalists and 2) knowing the difference between sponsored content and earned media.
Sponsored content is paid for (and sometimes deceiving to readers when not clearly labeled as advertising), earned media has a news angle relevant to the public interest. Organizations should focus on earned media if they want organic, positive press that resonates with readers. Getting to know journalists by providing consistent, reliable information and/or any type of in-person opportunity is the best way to do this.
As the next generation of communications professionals enters the industry, we must keep in mind the changing media landscape ahead. Media literacy, like media itself, is an ever-evolving concept that requires constant work to achieve. We can set ourselves up for a successful career by prioritizing ethical practices and always remaining students of media literacy.