The public is confused about news.
Deluged with misinformation, misled by lies, shunted into self-reinforcing echo chambers on social media, many are having trouble discerning between reliable facts and manipulation.
Impartial data — which used to be universally accepted as trustworthy— points to a serious problem. A 2018 study on trust, facts and democracy found that only 26% of those surveyed correctly ascertained facts that could be proven or disproven by evidence, while only 35% correctly identified opinion, that is, something reflecting one person’s beliefs and values.
While some sources of disinformation might be happy about that, almost everyone needs factual news from a source that has earned consumers’ confidence. But today’s readers are awash in falsehoods, half-truths, conspiracy theories, “fake news” and deepfakes (manipulated video or other media that appear real but contain fabricated sounds and images) — content that may be slickly presented, but is misleading and often deeply damaging.
Christina Van Tassell, chief financial officer at Dow Jones, says providing credible news and information to readers, whether their focus is business-to-business, business-to-consumer, or both — is critical to informing their decisions.
In a conversation with PwC’s Nicole Pinder, Partner, as part of the “Pulling the Future Forward” video series, Van Tassell says one answer to the proliferation of bad information is “news literacy.”
Van Tassell defines news literacy as “the ability to determine between fact and fiction, what’s credible, what’s not. What you should use to inform your decisions, what you should act on or even convey to others. It’s using standards of fact-based journalism to determine what to trust, what you want to share, what you want to act on.”
Dow Jones brands include The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and MarketWatch, all trusted sources for business news and analysis. Van Tassell says the diversity of Dow Jones’ publications helps the company compete with other sources of financial information.
“Our mission is to be the source of truth for decision-makers,” says Van Tassell. “We’re all decision-makers. So, whether we are making decisions about business, finance or even life, we all need those facts.”
To further the goal of news literacy among consumers, Dow Jones has partnered with the News Literacy Project (NLP). Founded in 2008, this nonprofit, nonpartisan national nonprofit provides teachers, students and people of all backgrounds and ages with resources to help them identify credible information through critical thinking skills. NLP’s resources and programs have reached more than 12,500 educators this school year who teach more than 1.8M students nationwide.
“News literacy simply makes it possible for readers to be active consumers of news and really engage them as active participants in democracy,” explains Van Tassell.
She says joining forces with NLP helps people to discern what is fiction and what is fact. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts,” she says. “Facts inform our personal opinion. Without facts, people really can’t make informed decisions about things of consequence.”
News literacy isn’t just a matter of knowing how to spot bad information; there’s also the difference between opinion and news.
“News and opinion are two different bodies and any quality journalism outlet will have a very clear distinction between the two,” Van Tassell explains. “The separation between these two bodies is essential to help ensure freedom of thought in our independent pieces, while also delivering our readers the essential facts they need and having them be able to trust our sources in the newsroom. So, if you think of it this way, news helps you to define events and opinion helps you debate them.”
One way to help readers assess and digest information is to raise their awareness of how news is distributed. Is it original reporting from a reputable platform? Or was it aggregated by a less reputable one that might have changed the meaning and nuance of the story?
“Increasingly readers are getting our news and information from platforms we don’t control,” says Van Tassell. “Today’s information is just the most complex we’ve seen in human history and so we want to help [readers] navigate today’s information overload. That means we need to change the experience, and really be able to identify who we are and show them how we actually accomplish news.”
Van Tassell attributes Dow Jones’s success to both careful reporting and to upholding standards in corporate structure. “Standards and ethics for us in the newsroom, as well as our corporate policies, [are] our playbook. We understand we have to earn our trust from our readers each and every day.”
The News Literacy Project’s outreach to students is especially important, because future decision-makers, leaders and voters will be operating in a world where bad information can be presented in ever more convincing ways. “It’s important that we’re connecting with them at an early age as they are developing their own information consumption habits,” adds Van Tassell. “Critical thinking is just essential, especially today where it is just a very overwhelming overload. These [tools for evaluating news] help get to the bottom of things.”