This month, we interviewed Dr. Seth Ashley (Boise State University), Dr. Adam Maksl (Indiana University – Southeast) and Dr. Stephanie Craft (University of Illinois) who developed a tool to explore and measure the relationship between news media literacy and political knowledge and engagement. Their complete article, “News Media Literacy and Political Engagement: What’s the Connection?” can be found in JMLE 9.1 here.
Q: How did you all decide to partner together for this research?
Seth Ashley: Stephanie, Adam and I began working together around 2010 when we were all at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Adam and I were grad students, and Stephanie was my advisor. We have all moved on to separate universities, but we have continued to work together. We’ve published a half-dozen peer-reviewed articles together as well as lots of conference papers. We each have our own scholarly niches and areas of expertise that we bring to our research, but we share a common concern for the importance of journalism in a democratic society, and we believe news and media literacy are essential for individual fulfillment and the success of our democracy. I think we make a great team.
Adam Maksl: The three of us have complementary ideas and thoughts that we bring to all of our research projects, which I think makes our work that much better. Indeed, what’s driving all our work is that in an era when there is information abundance, understanding the context in which the information is created and the context in which we as citizens interact with that information are crucial skills to live as free citizens in a democracy.
Stephanie Craft: Every teacher learns from her students; that’s certainly been true for me. Collaborating with Seth and Adam on a topic that is vital to the public good has been an ongoing—and enjoyable—learning experience.
- How did the idea for this research study come about?
SA: Our media literacy research has centered on the role of news media in society. Our aim has been to build on existing research to define what we think news media literacy looks like and to come up with ways to measure it. Then we look for relationships between literacy and other variables such as those explored in our recent JMLE article. In this case, we wanted to know how news media literacy is related to various forms of political engagement, including knowledge about current events, political activity and political self-efficacy. It’s important to know about these relationships so we can see the value of media literacy education. Generally, we find that having greater news media literacy is positively associated with political knowledge and engagement, which is what we would hope to find.
AM: Given how much of our research is rooted in a normative theory of the necessary relationship between journalism and democracy, it seemed only natural to explore the relationship between news media literacy and political engagement. Indeed, many news and media literacy programs are designed to either directly or indirectly encourage young people to participate more fully in democracy and the political process. So, it seemed very natural to explore these kinds of relationships in this paper.
SC: A challenge we faced early on in our literacy research was trying to make sense of the wide variety of definitions of media and news literacy. That careful attention to definitions has paid off, in this study and others, in helping us specify the components of news media literacy most strongly related to political variables.
Q: What do you hope to do with this research in the future?
SA: We want to use this research to demonstrate the benefits of news media literacy education, which has implications for pedagogy and policymaking. We hope to see news media literacy make its way into schools and colleges all over the world. We will use this research along with our previous work to continue building on our attempts to define and measure news media literacy and to examine relationships with other variables. For example, we have another study in press where we found a positive link between higher news media literacy and lower endorsement of conspiracy theories.
SC: There are so many directions we could go! One avenue, hinted at in the results of the study Seth mentioned, is to look more closely at news media literacy and trust: How are they related (if they are)? How do people choose which news sources to trust?
Q: How do you hope this research will contribute to media literacy education?
SA: Our definition of news media literacy is a holistic one that includes knowledge about how our media system works, so I hope this research shows the value of a critical, contextual approach. Also, I hope this research helps educators, scholars and policymakers see the value of media literacy education in general. If we want to foster successful citizen engagement in democratic and civic life, media literacy is essential to modern education.
AM: I hope that research like this will ultimately better help educators and policymakers understand the pro-social value of media education. As I often tell my students, we spend more time interacting with media in our lives than any other activity, yet there are few formal educational opportunities where we are asked to critically think about the context in which information in created, distributed, and consumed. That’s especially important in an era when information produced in very different contexts and for very different purposes might look similar. Ultimately, we hope that such programs can teach people to understand the context so they can become skeptical of information and willing to seek verification rather than just accept or dismiss information without any critical thought.
- Why is media literacy research important to you?
SA: Many people tend to assume that media literacy is a good thing, but research can provide actual evidence of this so we don’t have to guess or assume. The field of media studies has already provided a wealth of knowledge about media, so now we need to know how to educate the general population about what we already know. In this sense, media literacy research can help show what approaches are most effective and what kind of outcomes they might produce. This is an exciting time to be studying media literacy, and I’m thrilled to see it getting more attention these days.
SC: As Seth said, this is an exciting time to be studying news media literacy. But it’s also a sobering time. Our democracy’s news and information sphere is incredibly vibrant but also polarized, confusing and maybe even broken. Doing research that makes improves our understanding of how news media literacy is gained and enhanced is one way to contribute to fixing it.