Copps lauds effort to raise ‘news literacy’

FCC commissioner Michael Copps commended a news literacy project at a Washington, D.C., charter school Sept. 6 and said equipping the young and old alike with the ability to differentiate between facts and opinion and news and “infortainment” are critically important skills if the nation’s democratic republic is to thrive.

Copps referenced cutbacks in newsrooms around the country over the past few years as media companies struggled to deal with the economic recession.

“At a time when facts are scarce, when hundreds of newsrooms have been shuttered and thousands of reporters fired, and when shouted opinions are far more abundant than in-depth journalistic reporting, it is tough slogging to make sense out of the barrage of information hurling at us,” said Copps.

Taking on “the mountain of problems” facing the country requires “finding our way back to the facts real quick,” he said.

Copps, who has been a frequent critic of news media consolidation, staff reductions and the content of television news, acknowledged that despite extreme hurdles, many journalists have taken their responsibility to inform the public seriously, going so far as to write news out longhand and post it around town when the Japanese tsunami and resulting power outage stopped the presses and in the United States reporting in “something of the same spirit” as tornadoes, floods, droughts and fires threatened communities.

However, while journalists responded to these extreme circumstances with the information that is “the lifeblood of a functioning society,” said Copps, the full potential of an informed society won’t be realized until there is “news literacy, media literacy and digital literacy” among members of the public.

Quoting Thomas Jefferson, Copps said the founding father keenly recognized the importance of news to the health of the society.

“‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter,’” Copps said, quoting the former president.

But then he added, “But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

“That’s news literacy, isn’t it?” he asked rhetorically.

Copps made his remarks at the E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.