Professor discusses vital importance of media literacy at international conference

A Louisiana Tech College of Liberal Arts faculty member discussed the importance of media literacy in combating the fake news problem in society at an international conference this week.

Judith Roberts, department coordinator and assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Media Studies, presented “Edification and awareness: Educating the public to become more media literate citizens” at the Responsible Journalism and Communication Conference.

Journalism, political, and governmental communication scholars dialogued the roles of news in conflict, “fake news” and “post-truth” environments, and ways to evaluate impact by journalist training and education at this innovative academic conference.

Roberts said her topic was especially timely, considering that Americans are on the verge of another presidential election, and research has shown that during the months leading up to the last presidential election, one in four Americans visited a fake news website.

“One of the things our department and college try to communicate to students, from the time they are freshmen to when they graduate, is the importance of media literacy and understanding how the news can shape your perspective of the world,” Roberts said. “We cannot just be passive consumers of media. We must be active consumers who consider the validity and truthfulness of what see published on news sites and on social media.”

Roberts and fellow Tech instructor Megan Smith have both taught the Media Literacy course for Tech students. Smith, who is also the coach of Tech’s debate team, echoed Roberts’ sentiments.

“Media literacy has never been more important for students because of the steady increase in media sources and information, but also how media influences all parts of our interpersonal relationships to our national elections,” Smith said. “Learning how to use media responsibly empowers students way beyond their college years. Analyzing and evaluating media are lifetime skills.”

Brenda Heiman, director of the School of Communication, said this topic could not be more timely.

“With the impact of social media on every aspect of our lives, it is critical that education take a leading role in helping students understand the dangers ‘fake news’ on our decision-making processes as well as our perspectives on moral character development,” Heiman said.

Roberts’ previous research delves into politics and religion, as well as social media. She serves as a social media consultant and teaches classes in media law, social media, and communication theory, among others. This summer, she also served as a judge for Australia’s Social Media Marketing Awards.