Lily Evans ’21 is studying political science and journalism and is a 2020-21 Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are her own.
The digital age has fundamentally altered our relationship to news media and how we understand the role of journalism as an institutional pillar of American democracy. Online platforms offer unprecedented access to information, while promoting the value of connection and interaction between participants. Digital platforms dramatically reduced structural barriers to information, providing free access to a seemingly endless catalogue of knowledge, while satisfying our itch to find out exactly what we want, when we want. After much initial resistance toward the value of the internet, news organizations transitioned online and developed digital news offerings; they were met by a growing population of digital natives, whose close contact with modern technology throughout their lives made them more advanced and participatory in news media than previous generations.
Before the internet, mass media dominated the spread of information. Mass media, taking the form of inflexible presentation formats such as radio, television, and print publications, was known for its slower production speeds and a passive mass audience. It centralized knowledge in the hands of a few organizations and individuals, sharing information from one to many. But this asymmetric relationship between journalists’ and their audiences reinforced an information hierarchy, where media outlets remained the all-powerful keepers of knowledge.
The rise of online platforms gave average Americans the chance to add their commentary to the media sphere–a role once thought to belong exclusively to journalists. Today, the public is asked to employ some of these journalistic methods, so the ethics of communication widens to concern all of us–who circulate fact, fiction, news, entertainment, opinion, and opposition.
As digital natives we are defined by our unique style of participation, which ultimately allows us to occupy the role of consumer and creator. Journalism is now a conversation–not only do we absorb knowledge from online sources, but we comment on what we see, share it with our community of friends and followers, and make our own content. Each one of our individual contributions has the potential to be both constructive and destructive, impacting the public’s larger understanding of current events and issues. With this in mind, we have to consider first, how our contributions align with established ethical standards, and also, whether those standards should be challenged.
Although our digital knowledge is more advanced than other groups, savvy users still encounter difficulty verifying claims on the internet and distinguishing between news articles and advertising content. As the digital revolution expands our ability to engage with and create media, we have to consider applying our media literacy skills to content we author and interact with. Teaching students that the only issues relevant to media literacy are those in reporting or in the organization of our media landscape effectively minimizes the impact of their own contributions, as well as the inherent bias of their worldview. Nurturing media literacy skills for journalists and audiences is crucial.
My final project, “How They See Us,” attempts to address the disconnect between journalists and digital natives, making space for every participant to reflect on their responsibility to uphold standards of ethical communication. Media literacy asks us to be active participants in our media environment through critical inquiry and thought about the messages we receive and create. Scholars in the field help consumers develop skills to analyze, evaluate, and create media. I designed this set of resources for digital natives, like myself. The modules in my project include: Journalism 101; Modern Media Structures; and Media Influence and Persuasion. Armed with an innate fluency for digital environments that previous generations simply lack, we recognize the internet is a moldable, dynamic arena for expression, and use it as such. This course meets people at their level, offering tools and resources to navigate online news and other types of content. Participants will come away feeling empowered to criticize and evaluate their own media consumption and expand their connection to the modern media landscape.
About Lily Evans
"I am a senior studying political science and journalism. I’m from Seattle, Washington, where the political energy I found there first sparked my interest in the topic. I observed how political ideology leached into the most casual of conversations, forcing me to recognize the personal as political. Growing up in this environment has challenged me to hold honest conversations about difference and identity.
I believe education about news media and politics should be more accessible, and my goal for my project this year is an attempt to first, identify and unpack messages hidden in media, and second, to critique the content itself through ethical standards of reporting. Nurturing these skills early is crucial for two groups: young adults who do not see a place for themselves in the current conversation, and emerging journalists who want to understand the ethics at the foundation of their chosen career.
I hope to one day afford living in the Big Apple, by commenting on movies and music created by underrated Black/Brown artists. I enjoy listening to music, cooking, and spending time in the mountains. My role model is my grandmother, whose life is a testament to the power of the American Dream. As an elementary school teacher and librarian in a one-room schoolhouse, she gave back to her community in countless ways, leading a truly simple yet profound life."