Media Literacy and Press Freedom in the 21st Century

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A journalist poses in front of a quote by Phil Graham.
A journalist poses in front of a quote by Phil Graham while touring the Washington Post’s newsroom in Washington, D.C.

Media Literacy and Press Freedom in the 21st Century

While touring the Washington Post’s storied newsroom, a group of visiting foreign journalists paused to reflect on a quotation emblazoned above them on the wall: “Journalism is the first rough draft of history.” Attributed to former Washington Post President and Publisher Phil Graham, the decades-old quotation takes on new meaning amid 2017’s rapidly-evolving media and digital landscape. A landscape that delivers so much content, so quickly, that it’s often difficult to discern fact from fiction. Snapping a photo, one journalist tweeted that Graham’s words capture the timeless mission of professional journalism, despite new challenges for newsmakers and consumers alike.  He added, “It’s a reminder that we have homework to do.”

This was just the first of a ten-day press tour, sponsored by the State Department’s Foreign Press Center, designed to examine the theme of media literacy, all perspectives on the phenomenon of “fake news,” and the future of professional journalism itself. With stops in Washington D.C., New York City, and San Francisco, 18 journalists from around the world discussed and debated the themes of the tour through on-the-record discussions with policymakers, academics, media professionals, and technologists.

Kicking off the program in Washington, D.C., the group explored the intersection of media and policy.  Participants were delighted that newly-appointed State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert (herself a former working journalist), took time on the day of her debut Department Press Briefing to discuss the Department's engagement with international media.  Other notable moments included on-the-record meetings with DC-based think tanks and NGOs, as well as a spirited discussion with William Kristol, Editor in Chief of the Weekly Standard.  In addition, representatives from Facebook’s Washington office gave a detailed presentation on the company's ongoing efforts to balance combating disinformation with maintaining their traditionally inclusive operating and community standards. 

U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert discusses the Department’s engagement with international media.

The journalists next boarded a train to New York City for two days of briefings with experts in media literacy education, academics at the Columbia School of Journalism, media industry peers, and experts at the Committee to Protect Journalists.  Participants were particularly impressed by a panel discussion at Bloomberg News, where senior editors and staff writers offered frank remarks and presented a diversity of views on the state of journalism as a profession.   In a piece entitled “A Longing for Quality in Media” a participating Austrian journalist reflected on the discussion at Bloomberg, opining that many Americans seem to feel they are not represented by the mainstream media, but nonetheless long for quality reporting of facts and credible sources of information.

The reporting tour concluded in San Francisco, where the group examined media through the lens of the tech and start up industries in the Bay Area.  This included briefing from the myth-busting website, as well as Wikimedia, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Reddit, and many others, who explored the topics of digital citizenry, privacy rights, the democratization of education and news, and the interplay between government, tech, and the media sector.

Participants in the press tour visit the San Francisco Examiner’s headquarters in San Francisco, California.

This tour resulted in over 95 placements in the participant's media outlets, and their personal social media that span the world.  More importantly, the lively discussions, exchanges, and debates continue among 18 new friends and colleagues, who are still in touch through social media and the tour Facebook page. Through these exchanges international journalists and U.S. media experts are helping to craft a global understanding of media literacy, press freedom, and journalism professionalism for the 21st century.

About the Author: Shana Kieran is a Media Relations Officer at the New York Foreign Press Center.

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