Report from the Media Literacy Forum in Bartlesville

by Roger Elmore

On April 23rd, the League of Women Voters of the Bartlesville Area hosted a News or Nonsense media literacy forum, which brought together experts in the areas of journalism, information research, and communication. The panelists for the forum included Kelly Burley, director of KOSU Radio; Sarah Whittle, librarian and professor at Northeastern State University; and Kevin Bennett, lecturer with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The panel was moderated by award winning high school journalism teacher, Darla Tresner, of Bartlesville High School, who defined media literacy as “finding truth in what we see, hear, and read”. Although all three panelists spoke about their individual areas of expertise in relation to media literacy, all panelists stressed that everyone needs to be more prudent consumers of news and information.

Kelly Burley gave a brief history of journalism and media and cited Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of War of the Worlds as being a seminal event that really changed how we view–and trust–the media and mass communications. Burley also warned of the dangers of new technologies making it easier for the tech savvy to use software to perfectly impersonate others’ voices.

One of Professor Whittle’s main points was an explanation of how news and information goes through a cycle of publication and vetting over time. Information can often start on social media with a tweet or uploaded cell phone video; next, information or a story can be picked up by a traditional news outlet like a newspaper, local television station, or radio. Later, the story may be published in a bi-weekly or monthly magazine; even later still, the story may be written about in a published book, and then in academic journals, and or even made into a documentary. As time goes on, and as more information is available and compiled about a particular event, organizations and publications tell the story about that event with an increased focus on accuracy and providing broader context.

Lastly, Kevin Bennett spoke about the over-abundance of media outlets, the 24-hour “infotainment” news cycle, and how media outlets compete for advertisement revenue and viewership. Bennett’s overall advice was that we, the news consumer, be more prudent in deciding which media outlets to give our time to. He also spoke about rhetoric, and explained some persuasive logical fallacies to watch out for when reading, listening to, or watching news and commentary.

During the question and answer part of the forum, one question was asked regarding the decline of paid subscriptions to newspapers and how the need for advertisement revenue can potentially influence journalistic quality. Kelly Burley responded by saying that “the business model is broken for for-profit media,” and he explained that he thinks we are in the middle of a shift from for-profit to nonprofit media. He cited three Oklahoma nonprofit news outlets State Impact, Non Doc, and The Frontier as examples. Regarding a question about the government’s role in potentially regulating fake news, Burley suggested reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, but also stressed the responsibility of the consumer in doing the legwork of checking multiple sources and generally becoming better at vetting information for ourselves.

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