Just the facts, hold the fiction: News Literacy with Steve Wolgast

When I walked into “News Literacy: How do you determine what’s news?” this morning, I was expecting to learn about identifying the most newsworthy sources. But, Steve Wolgast, from Kansas State University, had something a bit different in mind.

We started off talking about some pretty confusing bar graphs, which was a bit much for 9:00 a.m. and, I’ll be honest, I was a little concerned. As Wolgast pointed out, journalism is not the career of choice for those hoping to make it in life as mathematicians. For me, a mathless career is a happy career. But that’s just the point. If we can’t even understand it, who can?

News literacy is the idea that watching or reading the news is more than just letting the information flow in, Wolgast said. The consumer’s job is to make an effort to put news into perspective and read between the lines of sources’ quotes. Journalists, though, have to make sure the news is as understandable as possible. Our job is to determine what’s news and what’s not before we print it, post it and Tweet it, because, especially now, mistakes have great potential to go viral.

We talked about a few key news stories that should never have made it into the news unchecked. Most notably, we discussed the sillyness of those who published the first stories about President Obama spending $200 million per day on his recent trip to India.

A little bit of journalist math (which means simple, and that much more ridiculous to leave these things unchecked) reveals that even if there were 3,000 people on the trip, all sponsored by the U.S. government, it would have cost over $66,000 per day, per person, Wolgast said. That’s just about twice what a normal Elon student pays for two years of a fantastic education, so I really hope they stayed in a truly extravagant hotel. Luckily for the taxpayers, though, while the exact cost is still unknown, it has been confirmed that these numbers are far higher than the real price.

Fact-checking in the newsroom, though I know it can get tedious, is absolutely one of the most important tasks that come with the responsibility of informing the general public. Otherwise, the news becomes news, and that’s just sad.

-Kassondra Cloos


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