Concepts, Assessments, Subversions
Edited By Matteo Stocchetti
Journalist Education and Truth in the Digital Age: Why We Need Critical Digital Literacy
The chapter deals with the importance of the concept of digital literacy in media education. Under digital literacy we understand a skill necessary for survival in the digital era, cognitive skills needed for solving problems connected with digital media production and existence in the online environment. The digital era has brought a wide spectrum of potentially problematic areas for media consumers as well as media producers. Our text illustrates these topics on a wide range of examples from current media, visual and social landscape. We address the issues connected with digital media, topics related to usage of social networks, alternative and counter-culture practices, etc. We try to illustrate potentially problematic issues of digital environment on the side of media producers, such as copyright and authorship protection, sources of information, its gathering, etc. The aim of this chapter is to show how the things surrounding us have radically changed in the last two decades and why this issue of digital literacy is important for the ability to orientate oneself in everyday life and why it should become the integral part of (not only journalistic and media) education.
The purpose of this chapter is to introduce the importance of the concept of digital literacy in media education. With the rapid development of digital technologies and media there is a rising need for each individual to be able to use these technologies, to understand a wide range of new practices and to continually adapt to new features and functions of these innovations. Digital literacy concerns not only the everyday use of computers, cell phones and other digital devices, but a far more significant and complex existence online within different social networks. Contemporary practice not only involves abilities such as the construction of knowledge from non-linear information, but also more complex and complicated skills.
This literacy is particularly important in the field of journalism where most of the production of news content is more or less digital. Working with information sources, the ways of gathering, retrieving, sorting and evaluating information has changed completely. Education in the area of digital literacy is one of the basic demands of people working in the news industry, including journalists, photojournalists as well as media scholars.
Within the term, digital literacy, we understand the skills necessary for survival in the digital era, cognitive skills essential to solving problems connected ← 105 | 106 → with digital media production and existence in an online environment. We take for granted that digital literacy should be a part of contemporary regular media related curriculum. The digital era has brought a wide spectrum of potentially problematic areas for media consumers as well as media producers. Because we are also lecturers of journalism and media studies, we will illustrate these topics with a range of examples from current Czech media, visual and social landscapes
The aim of this paper is to show the important connection between digital literacy and the ability to orient oneself in everyday life and why it should become an integral part of (not only journalistic and media) education.
Media literacy in the education of 21st century journalists
With the rise of digital electronic media we are witnessing new ways of production, distribution and reception of an unimaginably large amount of media content. Hand in hand with the rapid proliferation of media content comes the question of quality of information, sources and channels. These changes significantly influence our everyday media consumption experience, but even more problematize the area of media production. Media consumption is becoming an integral part of our everyday lives as the rate of consumption is higher than ever before. The importance of visually represented information and communication is increasing as well. The problem now is not the access to information, but the ability to effectively use it. Media literacy is a useful umbrella concept covering a wide range of disciplines, using research methods, approaches and concepts from sociology, political science, psychology, gender studies, cultural studies as well as aesthetics and art.
A wide range of definitions of media literacy exists, bringing diverse perspectives. Defined as, “critical autonomy relationship to all media,” by Aufderheide in her well known definition, media literacy specifies the ability to decode, evaluate, analyse and produce media of all kinds. The possibility to become a media literate person should be accessible to everyone. Media literacy is defined as a movement designed to help understand, produce and negotiate meaning in cultural production (Aufderheide, 1992). A very close view is shared by the European Commission, which stresses the critical aspects and also acknowledges media production as well as reception (European Commission, 2007).
Media literacy in digital environment is usually understood as digital literacy, under which we understand a set of skills required to solve problems and perform tasks in digital environments (Gilster, 1997; Lenham, 1995; Tapscott, 1998). The centrality of technologies in literacy is another important aspect of media literacy ← 106 | 107 → research (Kress, 2009; Snyder and Beavis, 2004). A wider survey of media literacy definitions and approaches was conducted by Koltay (2011) with focus on media literacy as well as information literacy and digital literacy.
For our purposes, the relationship between media literacy and education is the most interesting. The definition of media literacy by the National Association of Media Literacy Education emphasizes the educational aspect:
Media literacy: The ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, and COMMUNICATE information in a variety of forms-is interdisciplinary by nature. Media literacy represents a necessary, inevitable, and realistic response to the complex, ever-changing electronic environment and communication cornucopia that surround us. To become a successful student, responsible citizen, productive worker, or competent and conscientious consumer, individuals need to develop expertise with the increasingly sophisticated information and entertainment media that address us on a multi-sensory level, affecting the way we think, feel, and behave. (NAMLE, 2013)
According to other definitions oriented toward education, media literacy should help students understand how media produce content, how are media organized and how they construct reality, but also to increase students’ enjoyment and understanding of the media. This all should go together with obtaining the skills and knowledge needed in media content production process (Gutiérrez Martin and Hottmann, 2001). New digital aesthetics and the new social effects of digitalization and the necessity to include them in media literacy educational programs are subjects of interest to Pollard and Olason (2004).
In a Czech context, media literacy is a long term subject of interest to our colleagues, Jan Jirak and Radim Wolak, also focused on media literacy in general, the relationship between media literacy and general education, and functions of media literacy and media practice (2007).
Changing of working patterns and routines
Although the technocentric approach in media research has been repeatedly challenged, we cannot deny that changing technology (along with social changes) has had several implications for the work of journalists. Within the past two decades journalists all over the world have been changing their working routines and patterns under the influence of digital media. They have been both creating those media and influenced by the digital environment. It does not matter whether the journalists work for online media or for print or audio-visual ones that have their websites or 24/7 news channels, it is unimaginable they would write or broadcast just one piece of news per day as used to be standard in the past. They have to write or broadcast a couple of them.
The impact of financial recession is also strongly tied to changing work patterns, as for example Picard (2013) reminds:
All the companies expanded and some commercial firms, particularly in North America, took on heavy debt on the expectation the good times would continue (Picard 2006). They did not, of course, and the structures and costs developed in the wealthier era can no longer be maintained; hence, the cutbacks and downsizing. (Picard 2013: 21)
It is definitely also the problem of media companies in the Czech Republic. In some cases, for example in audio-visual media, this leads to the consolidation of positions, as journalists have to be able to also take pictures and edit the reports with specialized software, another trend we need to consider in journalism education.
Nevertheless, the pressure on journalists to be as quick as possible to publish their stories to succeed in the competition and at the same time being overloaded by the tasks (a lot of journalists complain about their staff being undersized) bring a number of issues that need to be further discussed in the context of needed innovation in journalist education. These issues include problems of information literacy, dealing with social networks and theft of content. ← 108 | 109 →
Problems of information literacy
The problem facing today’s journalist is not having access to information but, quite the opposite, being able to find and select quality information from a wealth of information, being able to decide which sources are to be trusted and which not. The digital environment changed the nature and character of information and media business as well. Access to media is now much easier than ever before, as we can see in the phenomena of citizen journalism, hyperlocal journalism and media activism of different kinds, but also in very simple media hoaxes, fake information and fake articles. Social networks can work as both watchdogs of these phenomena as well as channels of their wide distribution.
The Czech media landscape is not very often subject to the attempts of media activists as other western countries are used to (e.g. actions of media activists known as TheYesMen). However one instance occurred during the summer of 2007 when the group of Czech artists and activists, Ztohoven,1 made an intrusion into the live broadcasting of national Czech Television and its weather report programme, Panorama. Using basic office equipment (a laptop, video-editing software) they were able to change the official broadcasting with their own content, so instead of a panoramic view of Czech landscape, viewers watched an explosion of an atomic bomb on their TV sets.
On June 17th 2007 our group invaded media and television territory, intruded and impeached its trueness as well as its credibility. Pointed out the possible confusion of the media presented picture of our world for the real one. Is everything that our media such as newspapers, television, internet offer on a daily basis real truth or reality? It is this idea that our project is to introduce to the general public, a sort of reminder to everyone. We truly believe that the independent territory of television governed by public law is that kind of media which can handle such a thing even at the cost of self impeachment.2
This provocative act did open questions about how the media is protected against such acts, and how we can trust the media This example was part artistic action and part attack on the media, but raised discussion about the standards of Czech journalism.
In 2010 there was the case of a fake presidential letter written by a group of political activists called Hradni Particka (Prague Castle Posse).3 This congratulation by former Czech president Vaclav Klaus to director of Czech National Gallery Milan Knizak has been republished by several Czech media outlets. Another fake presidential letter from ← 109 | 110 → a parodic website was republished by several mainstream media (e.g. news portal www.parlamentnilisty.cz, or conservative right wing magazine www.fragmenty.cz), despite the fact that the letter contained very explicit and provocative expressions. Both of these examples were kinds of tests to determine how the mainstream media works with sources and fact checking (quite similar to the practice of TheYesMen – www.gatt.org).
A more serious mistake happened in September 2012 during reportage on the so called “assassination” of Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, when a protester shot the president with an airsoft gun. This in fact innocent incident was largely covered by the media, and an item of the exclusive material broadcast a day after the incident (29th September 2012 on the biggest private national station, TV Nova) included a video of the incident with a recording of bodyguard communication. Later it was revealed that it was faked and none such material existed (the communication between bodyguards is crypted, making it impossible to record).4 In all three of these cases, the media published the inaccurate content without any problems, later blaming external factors for their own failure.
Another interesting example, which we use as an exemplary case study during our lectures, is the case of politician, Jaromir Petelik. On 27th October 2012 the Czech tabloid newspaper, Blesk, published an article with the title, “Red Man in Town Hall – Hang the Rightists”, with a screenshot of the politician’s alleged Facebook profile.5 In the following hours another tabloid news server, Novinky.cz, republished the article and then several “serious” media followed suit as well (iHned.cz, CT24.cz, Tyden, etc.). A day after this incident, it was revealed that the screenshot was faked.
I suppose that in times when social networks are becoming more and more the only sources of information, it is quite alarming that journalists are not able to reveal these kinds of hoaxes, especially, when it is so obvious and trivial as this one. I am glad that the media reacted to this situation after publishing this article, and I hope they will pay more attention to internet information sources,
comments media journalist, Michal Zlatkovsky, on the situation.6 ← 110 | 111 →
Social networks as sources of information
Social networks are quite often used as sources of information by Czech journalists, as they are by many all over the world. Social networks can accelerate the work of a journalist and lead to exclusive information. “Even though I was not in London, but in Prague, I knew personal and interesting information for my comments from Facebook profiles of Czech athletes,” says a 26-year-old sports journalist covering the Paralympic Games 2012 for Ceska televize (Czech Television).
Although Czechs have used Facebook extensively for several years, it was not common until last year to see, for example, quotations of athletes referenced as having been got from Facebook in the media. It is hard to say why this acceptance of Facebook by the media has occurred so recently. Perhaps it stems from the fact that in the beginning, the media covered the Facebook phenomenon as some weird thing that steals people’s time they should be better committing to their work.7 So it was hard to admit that those who criticized were actually also doing the same thing. Later the atmosphere changed and more Facebook-friendly articles were printed8 and references to Facebook began to appear. On one of the five main Czech news servers www.ihned.cz we can even find a new section called “Sportovci na sitich” (Athletes within networks) that contains only information published on social networks by famous athletes from all over the world.
Twitter is not very popular in the Czech Republic, especially in comparison with Facebook. While Facebook is used by more than 3.5 million Czechs, there are just slightly over 165 thousand Twitter users in our country together with our neighbouring Slovaks9. So Twitter still generates the potential of bringing something “surprising” to the “mainstream” media audience. It proved the case when the Thursday supplement of the main Czech non-tabloid daily, Mlada fronta DNES, at the beginning of this year published an interview with the host of one of the political debates during the presidential campaign in the format of tweets.10 It was meant to demonstrate the importance that was attributed to social networks during the presidential campaign (it was the first time the president of the Czech ← 111 | 112 → Republic could be elected directly by all voters, not just by members of parliament) by many political analysts and journalists.11
There still are, however, journalists in the Czech Republic who have not yet joined social networks or have joined them because they have to, but do not feel comfortable with it. A 47-year-old editor of a TV news programme for children, who used to work also as a foreign correspondent and the editor of the main news programme, says:
I created a Facebook page for our programme because we were looking for some regular, frank feedback from the audience, and for almost 2 years had just random emails. When I made the webpage, the feedback started to be slightly better, but it was Facebook that gave it the spin, regularity and better quality for us. But I have to admit I am too old for Facebook, I see it as a waste of time, for me it is just a tool to connect with the audience to get better feedback for my work.
What we always stress when speaking with our students about social networks and using them as a source for news and articles is that they cannot be the only source of information. This is simply because things do not really happen there, things happen in the “real” world. We highlight “critical autonomy” as accented by Aufderheide (1992). Some campaigns and events can start online, but you need to track them in “reality”, however socially constructed it is.
We also try to show students that their fascination with the novelty and rapidness of the communication that is almost always associated with so called new media is just a matter of interpretation. Take, for example, David Morley (2007) and other sceptical media oriented scientists who highlight the fact that when the era of writing came everyone was fascinated and it was the same with book printing, the telegraph, telephone, photography, radio, television, internet, etc. Every time period has its new media, but it continues to be used for the very oldest purpose – to transmit a message. But what each new communication invention brings is a quicker and more precise transmission over longer distances.
That said, it is far easier now than it was, for example, 50 years ago, to cause some affair or mischievous misunderstanding when “posted” information is picked and published without verification (due to rapid time pressure and online intermedia competition). ← 112 | 113 →
Authorship of information “published” on social networks is also a frequent topic we discuss with our students. One can never know for sure who the author is of anything published online without “real” verification of it. The issue of online authorship is connected with the issue of copyright law, which is another problematic field in current Czech journalism.
One of the projects that highlighted this topic in recent months in the Czech Republic was a weekly, Agenda12. It was published twice by the publishing house, Sanoma, and their creators (almost all of them journalists specializing in topics connected with media) later admitted it was meant as a test of other journalists’ reactions from other media and a demonstration of how stealing media content works in the Czech Republic, usually not publicly declared. Some journalists later published their doubts as to the creators’ intent and thought the authors really meant it, claiming that after the wave of criticism they withdrew and tried to mask it with the “project”.13 Nevertheless, what is important for us is that it really shed light on this matter often discussed in academic circles (e.g. Trampota and Necas, 2007), but practised without hesitation in the media.
Following the publication of the two issues of Agenda in question, a conference was held by the authors of the magazine at the beginning of April 2013. It was called Pravne je to OK (Legally OK) and focused on how topics and news are copied from both Czech and international media by Czech journalists. The media analyst and journalist, Ondrej Aust,14 opened the conference by declaring that thanks to monitoring the Czech media he had found the 10 most common ways content is stolen. According to his research, the Czech media publish daily just 15 % of their exclusive content, while all other content is found somewhere else and more or less modified. News servers, for example, reword news from other Czech servers, sometimes with a short credit to the server or translate news from foreign servers (and do not cite them). Thus the same quotations and sentences can be found in different types of media.15 But legally it is OK. ← 113 | 114 →
We mentioned above that social networks can generate exclusive information, but it remains harder and harder to get any as more and more people are interconnected. This is especially so in the Czech Republic, inhabited by slightly over 10 million people, with 5 nationwide dailies and 1 nationwide but regionally oriented daily, 1 big public radio broadcaster and 2 more private news radios and 1 public and 3 commercial nationwide TV companies. The number of journalists is quite low16 as is “V.I.P.” sources of information. Further, it is clear that politicians who actively use their Facebook or Twitter accounts want to have “friends” among as many journalists as possible and vice versa. So then the publication of “exclusive” information merely depends on the ability of the journalist to copy something as quickly as possible to his or her article. And it is not much, according to our opinion.
Today the biggest problem of a journalist is no longer access to information, but exactly the opposite – how to choose from the immense variety of information available what is relevant, how to select trusted sources of information. With various cases from the contemporary Czech media landscape we have tried to show how important these issues are as a part of journalism curriculum. We are trying to give our students at least a basic introduction to the very complex area of media literacy, not limited only to the examples shown here, but also in the areas of visual literacy, digital literacy and information literacy.
There are several problems to consider within the digitalized Czech media landscape, the most striking one being orientation in the inordinate amount of data available. Additional problems include sources of information and their credibility. Czech journalists very often republish articles from other media sources without paying closer attention to their content. „Stealing” of topics and sometimes even parts of texts among journalists is another intimately linked issue.
In other potential areas of media literacy the Czech media landscape remains a bit behind other countries, e.g. citizen journalism is not a very common practice in the Czech Republic. This was clearly visible during a huge explosion in Prague on 29th April 2013, which also strongly hit the building of our faculty in the centre of the city. The only citizen journalism contribution about this event was created ← 114 | 115 → by a colleague of ours, new media guru and journalist, Milos Cermak, who posted an image from the moments after the explosion on his Twitter account just a few minutes after the blast17.
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3. Prof. Klaus blahopreje prof. Knizakovi k 70. narozeninám. http://www.hradniparticka.cz/2010/04/prof-vaclav-klaus-blahopreje-prof.html. 20th April 2010. Cit. 2013-04-30.
4. Zaznam Klausovy ochranky je mozna falesny, rika inspekce. http://www.tyden.cz/rubriky/domaci/zaznam-klausovy-ochranky-je-mozna-falesny-rika-inspekce_247711.html. 1st October 2012. Cit. 2013-04-30.
5. Pravicaky povesit a podnikatele vyvlastnit, pise se na facebooku pod jmenem komunisty Petelika. http://www.blesk.cz/clanek/zpravy-politika/184260/pravicaky-povesit-a-podnikatele-vyvlastnit-pise-se-na-facebooku-pod-jmenem-komunisty-petelika.html. 27th October 2012. Cit. 2013-04-30.
6. Michal Zlatkovsky. Jak dlouho trva zmanipulovat media? Necelych pet minut. http://www.mediar.cz/jak-dlouho-trva-zmanipulovat-media-necelych-pet-minut/. 28th October 2012. Cit. 2013-04-30.
7. E. g. Kvita, Milan. Facebook – pojdme zabijet cas spolecne. Ovsem.net. http://www.ovsem.net/ruzne/facebook-pojdme-zabijet-cas-spolecne/. 7th June 2009. Cit. 2013-04-30.
8. E. g. Bednar, Vojtech. Facebook umi byt uzitecny. Pomaha hledat krev dobrovolnych darcu. iHNed.cz. http://tech.ihned.cz/c1-52043490-facebook-umi-byt-uzitecny-pomaha-hledat-krev-dobrovolnych-darcu. 8th June 2011. Cit. 2013-04-30.
10. Polacek, Tomas. Volby ve 140 znacich. Magazin Mlade fronty DNES. Praha: MAFRA, a. s. 31st January 2013.
11. E. g. Kasik, Pavel. Za uspech Schwarzenberga mohou socialni site. Karla je plny Facebook. idnes.cz. http://technet.idnes.cz/internet-volby-prezidenta-d03-/sw_internet.aspx?c=A130112_184201_sw_internet_pka. 12th January 2013. Cit. 2013-04-30. Lidovky.cz, CTK. Ovlivnil Facebook a Twitter výsledky voleb? Lidovky.cz. http://www.lidovky.cz/cesky-internet-rezonuje-vysledky-prvniho-kola-prezidentske-volby-1f4-/media.aspx?c=A130113_133855_ln-media_hm. 13rd January 2013. Cit. 2013-04-30.
12. Agenda should have been a weekly, inspired by the British, The Week, the motto of which was: “The best of media: from print to Facebook.” It was filled with information from other media that was “quoted there”, fulltext versions of articles with pictures. More information: https://www.facebook.com/TydenikAgenda, cit. 2013-04-28.
13. E.g. Slizek, David. Tydenik Agenda byl pry viralem, ktery ma vzbudit diskusi o citacich v mediich. Lupa.cz. http://www.lupa.cz/clanky/tydenik-agenda-byl-pry-viralem-ktery-ma-vzbudit-diskusi-o-citacich-v-mediich/, 25th March 2013, cit. 2013-04-30.
15. Hutnik, Matous. (2013). Ti, kteri kradou, a ti, kterym to nevadi. In Fles, vol. 20, no. 9. Prague: Faculty of Social Sciences, p. 2. (in Czech)
16. From research on the population from which we sampled for the Worlds of Journalism Study (www.worldsofjournalism.org), in 2012, we found the total number of people who work both full time and more than 50% of their working time in political news departments to be 1191.