News21 effort promotes media literacy

(‘76 Contributor) “Have the media failed America?” That was the question at an all-day conference in Colorado Christian University’s Beckman Center on December 2. Media experts gathered to discuss the changing face of news and journalism’s role in a free society. It was part of a project called News in the 21st Century, sponsored by CCU through its think tank, the Centennial Institute.

Through the means of classroom instruction and civic engagement the News in the 21st Century Project seeks to equip both CCU students and the public to be critical consumers of media, as well as objective producers. “To be self–governing citizens, we all need reliable information about our world,” said Centennial Institute director John Andrews. “The News21 project addresses that need.”

Funded by a grant from the Smith Foundation in New York, the project is fulfilled in part by Persuasion and News in the 21st Century, a required general education course. Dr. Chris Leland, the professor of record, taught the first two–thirds of the class on basic persuasive theory. Then, students got their hands dirty: under the tutelage of veteran journalists Stephen Keating and Jay Ambrose, they examined firsthand the persuasive messages, bias and tactics that media sometimes uses. Starting with Keating’s first question, “Is Facebook news?” students considered how they got news, what they called news, and how they can trust news.

Bringing media notables onto campus was an appropriate climax, as students heard from men and women that they can read in the paper, watch on television, or see on the computer screen. Exhibiting both conservative and liberal views, the panels discussed the effectiveness of the media, as well as the role for consumers today. Students were continually reminded that media is changing, and the divide between consumer and producer is breaking down. Referring to an individual’s role, Patti Dennis of 9News reminded all: “Your job is to enlighten yourself.” With the rise of the internet and the democratization of news, there is ample opportunity.

Building on this idea, Brent Bozell, who founded the Media Research Center, exhorted students to become storytellers. “If you learn how to become storytellers, you’re going to change the world.”

Indeed, that was the goal of the class, and remains the ongoing goal of the project—which will continue in the spring. According to Dr. Leland, students, “gained interpretive skills and interests they didn’t have before. They could see how the theory of persuasion works in the real world. And, they saw the clash of ideas in culture.”

Still, this class is a beginning for students: with the tools to add to the cultural dialogue, they now have the confidence to do so from a Christian perspective. “Karl Barth said that every Christian should get up in the morning and read the newspaper and the Bible,” explained Leland. “They need to know what’s going on and how God wants them to react.” The News in the 21st Century project aims for exactly that.

“We invite everyone to keep up with the project through our website at www.news21ccu.com,” said John Andrews. “That includes suggesting topics for our blog on media bias, and attending future conferences.”

The next conference is set for Friday, March 2, 2012, again at the CCU Beckman Center. It will take up the issue of how fair and accurate is the media’s treatment of religion and faith.

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