UT should do more to educate students in news literacy

Audrey Larcher

Freedom of press and information is the cornerstone of functional democracy. In instances of American political turmoil and social unrest, it is journalists who amplify voices, illustrate facts and lead Americans to important conclusions.

Now more than ever, college years are the first in which people get involved with politics. As engagement with politics increases, so does our attention to different news sources and the journalism they produce. In preparing students for civic responsibility, UT should allocate their budget toward informing smart news readership. 

Most students are already a step ahead and actively seeking out news on their own. In a study conducted last semester, a majority of UT students read the news at least weekly. This statistic aligns with reports that 69 percent of young adults read daily news and that 37 percent pay for subscriptions to at least one publication.

But just because students are reading does not mean their relationship with the news offers no room to improve. Most young adults subscribe to just one publication for coverage of just one topic, a trend that mirrors existing national polarization. Many millennials rely on the Facebook pages we “like” to spoon-feed us news, hindering our exposure to different publications’ perspectives and contributing to the growth of information echo chambers. 

In a divisive political climate that demonizes the press, universities must show young voters what fair, factual journalism looks like. Currently, our library system offers a centuries’ worth of archived New York Times articles, but this service doesn’t afford insight on current events and can be quite difficult to navigate. Students should not have to sift through thousands of niche articles on JSTOR in an attempt to better educate themselves about broad news topics. The McCombs School of Business offers free print newspapers as well, but with millennials reading most news online this system is not accessible to many students.

Journalism scholars and librarians should select a few dozen reputable publications and subsidize subscriptions for students interested in learning more about different topics of journalism. That way, young adults who may be able to afford one or two subscriptions, but not enough to sample every paper, can expose themselves to different styles and perspectives.

UT should also expand on resources for students offering guidance on how to differentiate between fake news and sound journalism. Although the library offers a “Journalism 101” guide, students can also benefit from exposure to fact-checking websites, political bias checkers and other tools that help add context to news. 

College is about more than just classroom learning. We are here at UT to earn well-rounded educations, to prepare ourselves for productive adulthoods in which we can contribute to society. Understanding the press is an important part of that. If we want students to know where they can look for information about the world around them, increasing news accessibility is crucial.

Larcher is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing major from Austin. She is a columnist.