Our need for media literacy

July 24, 2014

See no evil...Two weeks ago, I went to a presentation by Kelly McBride on the topic of ethics and the media. Kelly is the ethicist with the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg FL. She also contributes to an NPR broadcast. In 2013, she published a book - Truth and Trust in Media – The New Ethics of Journalism. Her presentation was informative, engaging and thought-provoking.
One of the points Kelly made in her presentation was that the traditional gatekeepers to publishing news are gone. 

Each of us can be, and often is, a producer of media, as well as a consumer of media. We e-mail and text. We tweet and blog. We write newsletters, create YouTube videos and publish e- articles. 

We are the media.

This creates a couple of problems.
First, volume of information. We have access to significantly more media than we can consume. 

When it comes to information, we are attempting to “drink from a fire-hose.”  It is simply not possible to read – let alone truly understand – all the information available to us. We each come up with strategies and coping mechanisms to deal with this information overload. (For a longer discussion of this problem and to access a link to an entertaining YouTube video on this topic, check out my blog post – Information Overload.)

Second, truthfulness of information. One of the roles the traditional gatekeepers (e.g. newspapers) play is acting as a filter to prevent the publication of false information. No gatekeeper = no truth filter. 

This means that now each of us is responsible for determining the truthfulness of the information we consume. More importantly, each of needs to determine the truthfulness of the information we publish. The information we tweet and blog. The information we forward in our e-mails and include in our reports.

In her presentation, Kelly told a story about a time that she, as an experienced journalist, published a story that she discovered was false. In her case, it was a tweet about a 28-foot alligator terrorizing a Florida neighborhood. It turned out the story was an “urban myth.” (To see the story in question, click here.)

The point of her story was to emphasize the importance of developing media literacy. We all need to develop our own safeguards against false information. We need to develop ways of assessing the truthfulness of information we receive and send.

We need to act as our own information gatekeepers.

Are you publishing information?

What are you doing to ensure it is true?

EHS related resources:

Both the ABIH and the BSCP Code of Ethics contain requirements related to truthfulness.

The ABIH Code of Ethics states that CIHs should – “provide truthful and accurate representations to the public in advertising, public statements or representations…

The BSCP Code of Ethics states that CSPs should – “issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner and only when founded upon knowledge of the facts and competence in the subject matter.”

If you would like to learn more about using professional codes of ethics to help you in addressing EHS ethical dilemmas, check out the ethics course I am offering in partnership with AIHA  – Ethics for the OH&S Professional.