This week is Media Literacy Week, and to help bring some awareness to the role media literacy plays in our society, we are going to look at its impact and effect in rural America. It is much more profound than you might imagine.

For starters, let’s talk about how we all learn to interpret media. If you spent some time in college or graduated from college, you most likely got a good amount of training in media literacy, information literacy or other forms of critical thinking. If you’re like the 61% of us who do not have a college degree, you likely learned about it in High School.

What, you don’t remember your media literacy class? That’s because there probably wasn’t one, because…

There is no national standard or legal requirement for media literacy education in U.S. Schools.

Individual State Board of Education Control

Each individual state board of education is responsible for developing its own educational requirements. 48 states have voluntarily adopted the Common Core State Standards initiative, which recommends integrating media literacy within other topics, rather than teaching it as a stand-alone subject. 

“The need to conduct research and to produce and consume media is embedded into every aspect of today’s curriculum. In like fashion, research and media skills and understandings are embedded throughout the Standards rather than treated in a separate section.”  (From the national Common Core State Standards Initiative)

This approach, as it turns out, is ineffective in our current media environment. Take a step back and remember that just 100 short years ago, media was newspapers, the end. The first radio stations came on the air in the 1920’s, followed by television with the Big 3. Then cable happened, then satellite TV happened, then the internet, iPod, iPhone, the explosion of Social Media . . . Compare that to the prior 300,000 years of human evolution, where we went from cave walls to the printing press. It’s no wonder we have a media literacy problem.

Outcomes of an integrated approach

And as mentioned above, what we are doing is not working. Recent research from Stanford indicates this integrated approach is failing. Analysis of more than 7800 students across 12 states prompted this response: “In every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation.” This is with digital-native high school students who are supposedly a more media-savvy generation than we have ever seen. 

For the majority of Americans, this education is all they get to defend themselves against . . .

  • Foreign states actively waging disinformation campaigns.  
  • Under-resourced media, bound by duty and law to serve shareholders.
  • Tidal waves of unchecked information from social media.
  • Extremist infotainment media masquerading as “news”.
  • Powerful lobbying groups with massive media budgets.
  • The death of localized news reporting, information, and journalism.
  • The echo chamber created by algorithms and your own habits.

The narrative on every key issue we face as a society is being hacked, and we don’t have the tools to cope. We are defenseless in the ongoing war for hearts and minds. 

According to a 2019 report from the Center for American Progress, 61% of Americans 25 or older have not completed a degree program. 40% have a high school diploma or did not complete high school. The higher the level of education attainment, the higher the level of digital literacy. 41% of those without high school diploma are considered digitally illiterate – more than 2.5 times the average. And this is the difference in people’s ability to accurately understand information. Some form of in-depth, focused, stand-alone media literacy curriculum or class is included in most college degree requirements, in contrast to the integrated approach currently in place. 

College degree attainment – and media literacy – is heavily dependent on geography.

It will likely not surprise you to learn that most of us at a disadvantage in media literacy are in rural areas. College degrees are held largely by those in urban and suburban areas. The lowest-attainment counties, meanwhile, are heavily concentrated in rural areas. Of the bottom 10 percent of counties in terms of attainment, 84 percent can be classified as mostly or completely rural. By contrast, in the top 10 percent of counties in terms of attainment, just 16 percent are rural. 

Darker Blue = areas with high concentration of people with no degree

It may also not surprise you to learn there is a direct geographic correlation between these rural areas, and areas where more than 2,000 local newspapers have disappeared since 2004. Without a viable, convenient, and trusted alternative for local news and information, people are now getting their local, state and even national news and information from social media sources, served up by algorithms without any journalistic oversight, and only the bare minimum of fact-checking. Funny how the maps match up. 

Solving Media Literacy gets us to the table on what matters.

So – big surprise, poor white people in rural areas and poor dark people in urban areas are being ignored and under-served by our elected officials and our institutions. What else is new?

What’s new is how this lack of media literacy, and issues like filter bubbles, fake news, and foreign powers have divided our society in a way I have never seen in my lifetime. That is a serious problem – not in and of itself, but because solving any serious problem depends on us solving media literacy. We cannot ignore truth and evidence and science, mistrust any source we disagree with, or work with alternate facts, or in a different reality and expect to come together on any of the issues we all face together. All the serious problems – climate change, border policy, pandemics, racial inequity, gun control, you name the issue – ONLY exist because we, as a constituency, lack the media literacy to critically examine and understand all the messages coming at us. Until we solve that problem, we will not be able to solve the serious problems.

That is why media literacy is such a huge part of our mission at Citizen One. We hope the work we are doing here will lead to a place where people and communities can come together on an issue and use their critical thinking skills to find common ground, rather than a common enemy to their tribe.

If you want to learn how you can become more media literate – first of all, keep checking Citizen One. We will have more resources for you here soon, but for now check out the Learn page. In the mean time, the organizations below all have great resources to help you understand and overcome media literacy issues.

But the best thing you can do is take the power back – contribute a story to Citizen One. Be a part of the solution. Educate yourself and help us educate others. Support what we are trying to do here in both journalism and media literacy education. Tell a friend, make a donation, ask your employer to advertise. We gave Wall Street a shot, now it is Main Street’s turn to protect the Fourth Estate. The mind is your most powerful weapon against misinformation – arm yourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

English Language Arts Standards» Introduction» Key Design Consideration | Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2011). Corestandards.org. https://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/introduction/key-design-consideration/

MLN. (2019, December 22). Media Literacy Around the States | Media Literacy Now. Media Literacy Now | Advocating for Media Literacy Education. https://medialiteracynow.org/mlnpolicyreport/

Stanford researchers find students have trouble judging the credibility of information online. (2016, November 21). Stanford Graduate School of Education. https://ed.stanford.edu/news/stanford-researchers-find-students-have-trouble-judging-credibility-information-online

Center for American Progress. (2019, June). https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-postsecondary/reports/2019/06/27/471242/those-left-behind/

Stats In Brief U.S.Department of Education. (2018). (pp. 2018–2161). https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018161.pdf

Adult Attainment. (2019). Americanprogress.org. https://interactives.americanprogress.org/maps/2018/12/Adult+Attainment+Report/index.html?_ga=2.62199212.1292861410.1625935350-17762025.1624767281

The News Landscape in 2020: Transformed and Diminished |. (2020, June 21). The Expanding News Desert. https://www.usnewsdeserts.com/reports/news-deserts-and-ghost-newspapers-will-local-news-survive/the-news-landscape-in-2020-transformed-and-diminished/

 

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