Media literacy, of course, is not a science that can be considered learned once and for all. It’s more of a process, a flexible set of abilities that helps to stay agile and able to differentiate the ways of delivering information from the actual information.
And just as we don’t have to believe every single word, we don’t have to trust every single site. Especially because they are many, and sometimes they are not media, but simply a means of distributing misleading, one-sided or false material called and paid for.
Critical thinking is like a muscle that works silently, persistently, and helps us sift through information even subconsciously (if we think that something is not here, then it really is not).
It is beneficial for our health if we also tear that muscle while reading daily news feeds or while wandering in social media.
First of all, we ask: who is the author?
1. Quality materials cannot be anonymous
Like any product, media content must also be authored. That is to say, the name of the producer (not the pseudonym), information about the site and the editor-in-chief. The best thing to do is to go to the “About Us”, “Contact” or similar section of the site and make sure there is a phone number and address that will provide minimal means for contacting them.
It is worth remembering that materials that contain inaccuracies or are manipulative are left anonymous. We all know that things that are anonymous and unsigned are usually slander.
Working under pressure might be an exception when media and journalists remain anonymous to avoid persecution. However, this is an extreme situation that contradicts the provisions of media freedom.
2. The structure of the materials needs to be conscientious
After reading the material, the reader should understand what, where and when it happened, what the source is, what the stakeholders are, and so on.
Trust in the media is also built on trust in the audience. It can be said that the principle of “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” applies.
And if you find that the site that authored the material does not respect you very much, trying to show that there is only one point worth paying attention to, then you too can disregard that site.
Read, be informed, but reserve the right to disagree.
3. Check whose words are quoted
The less you see the formulations “according to our information” or “according to our sources,” the better. After all, it is possible that the site specifically wants to mislead you by spreading the content it wants and attributing it to non-existent or incompetent sources.
Remember that verifying if an anonymous scientist, politician and expert is really an expert can be done easily. And with a few extra searches it can just as easily be refuted.
If they are a serious figure in their field, then we will certainly find their work or opinions on online platforms.
Don’t avoid going out of your way to check. And find out who the media wants to be seen as an authority and source and whose voice it chooses to make heard.
4. An abundance of sensational headlines and emotional wording is questionable
Catchy and attractive headlines are a good bait to grab an audience.
But when the majority of the materials have “urgent,” “heavy secret,” “big scandal,” “never has something like this been heard before,” “get ready for war” and other such headlines, we have the right to doubt the impartiality of all the material.
The same doubts arise when the media headlines someone’s opinion (again in a scandalous and intimidating way), presenting it as fact and without any quotes.
For example, if they make the opinion of any unknown “expert,” that the Armenian nation is on the verge of destruction if a few people decide to change their gender, hair color, religion or country of residence, the headline.
5. Journalism and Facebook posts are not the same
Sensational and emotionally charged opinions usually appear in the media also in the form of social networking statuses. The site simply reproduces them without commenting, analyzing, balancing them.
As a result, the quoted words, being very biased and personalized, takes on the structure of the article.
Facebook statuses may, of course, be the starting point for an article, but it cannot replace journalistic work. At least because the author of the status doesn’t have to check their words and even edit it. While the media must.
6. Beware of scary, frightening news that prompts you to act immediately
Linking local news to a conspiracy theory and global threats is one of the tricks with a goal to scare you.
Materials built on fear are dishonest but sell.
And if you don’t just want to be a product for site owners, always be skeptical when you come up with strong emotional messages.
If a media outlet wants you to be influenced, stimulated, and altered by most of its content, then it does not trust your ability to judge and analyze.
In your mind you can say, I can decide for myself what to do with the information I have received, and you are better off providing it as completely and as accurately possible.
7. The higher up your viewpoint, the more you see
The famous law of physics says that everything is relative. This law is applicable to all areas of our lives, including the media. And for the theory of relativity to help us, not get in our way, it is good to have as wide and colorful a picture of reality as possible.
Figuratively speaking, you have to climb the mountain to see many things.
Reliable is the media that not only narrows our eyes but helps to broaden it by allowing for a comprehensive view. A 360 view.
Information that is provided is valuable when it includes prospective impacts on different spheres.
For example, if a media outlet publishes a criticism or investigation, it is best when it is done not from a narrow personal hole but from the head of a “mountain.”
After all, you see more with eyes wide open than when you are squinting out of a pit.
8. There is no absolute objectivity, but there is honest work
The way information is packaged says a lot about the media. Just like food packaging on which the manufacturer’s name, address, ingredients, shelf life and production date are written.
An honest media outlet will not sell outdated information, will not write an incorrect date on the label, and moreover, will not lie about what its product contains.
If the media is honest about its client and its goals (for example, saying I’m one-sided, and this is our side), it’s easier for us to make a choice.
To read or not to read, to trust or reject, to ignore or subscribe, this is our choice. We go through the newsstands and choose the one that is most reliable in its packaging. Then we try the original product. Then different products from the same manufacturer.
Trying, digging, researching, smelling is our weapon that helps to stay away from the attack of dishonest media and their owners.
9. Quality media wants us the consumers to turn into co-authors
Not only do we as consumers need media literacy, but also media producers if they want to grow and accept that the audience is not a passive group, but an active participant in events.
The creators of the media agenda and the consumers of that agenda are co-authors.
This is a promising investment by the media. We can even call it a dry calculation.
We need to be able to influence the content, supplement it, analyze it, and if necessary refute and oppose it. And the media must take this into account, as much as it takes into account the financier’s financial interests.
It is worth remembering that the media is nothing without an audience, just an area that no one enters, knowing that they will only find rude, dishonest, inappropriate content of poor quality.
10. Commenting on information is as important as getting it
Any content is mediated because there is a person behind the content, so there is (if only hidden) that person’s interests, emotions, sympathy and hatred.
A journalist is not a robot capable of checking everything, correcting it, balancing it and only publishing it afterwards. There is always an opportunity to make a mistake, to miss something, not to notice it.
But a good journalist and the media understand that mistakes cannot be deliberate, driven by party or economic interests.
And most importantly, they know that sometimes our own interpretation is the most valuable because it helps to notice and correct mistakes.
After all, both parties will have the opportunity to comment, doubt, analyze, inspect, ask new questions.
Just like co-authors do.
The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.