Opinion: News literacy is critical in the fight against misinformation

Since the onset of the global pandemic, there has been a surge in demand for trusted news and information. In times of crisis, people look for a constant, a source of stability as fiction and speculative theories attempt to discredit fact-based journalism. The way that people obtain and absorb information has evolved rapidly in recent years.
 
Mounting mistrust and misinformation
 
Disinformation as a term, is one that has become increasingly common in our daily lexicons. According to data collected from the Dow Jones Factiva platform, the number of media articles mentioning the term has steadily grown over the past decade. For example, last year, in Asia Pacific, there were over 1,700 mentions of disinformation in English language media stories. This compares to an annual regional average of 250 mentions or less between 2010 and 2017. As the spread of misinformation appears to grow, so does the importance of news literacy in the fight for trust.
 
A recent study by the Media Insight Project also revealed some concerning insights around readers’ understanding of news products, including the finding that half of its respondents in the US were unsure what an ‘op-ed’ is.
 
Information hygiene has also been used to describe the habits that individuals observe when handling and interacting with news and information.  Findings from this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer showed that there is a trust deficit around the issue of information hygiene. It confirmed that while up-to-date and accurate information is in high demand, respondents often found it challenging to source it. According to the study, only one in four respondents practice good information hygiene. This includes verifying information from multiple sources, and fact-checking content before amplifying unvetted information - often via social media.
 
As digital subscriptions rise, digital labelling must follow
 
Reader research suggests that the difference between news and opinion content is not always clearly labelled in digital offerings, compared to print where the distinction is more pronounced. For example, many readers often come onto digital news sites from social media links and may not be familiar with how a news organisation labels their content.
 
Just as you would expect your favourite food recipe to have all of its ingredients labelled, we all play a role in educating readers on the different types of news content that exist and how to identify them. 
 
A collective response is needed
 
News publishers have a unique opportunity, and responsibility, to help readers, subscribers and customers understand and recognise the types of content they offer. Trust and transparency go hand-in-hand and it is imperative that we make it clear to our readers when they are reading opinion content versus news content. Making this distinction and explaining the labelling is an important way to maintain and build trust with our audiences. 
 
The News Literacy Project (NLP), an education non-profit organisation in the US, is doing important work on this issue, providing resources and programmes to help the public better understand how to be savvy news consumers. During their National News Literacy Week earlier this year, they offered virtual classrooms, teaching materials and a whole host of touchpoints aimed at raising the importance of quality, professional and verified news.

Serving readers with the highest journalism standards 


Clear and strong standards and ethics in journalism remain at the core of tackling the issue of disinformation. The very highest ethical and legal standards must be applied to all content. Professional publishers need to be the ‘fact-checkers friend.’ A rising tide will lift all boats.

Collectively, the news and information industry should continue to advocate for the highest of standards. Our loyal readers, subscribers and customers deserve and expect this.



The article is contributed by Suzi Watford, EVP, Consumer at Dow Jones.

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