Democracy and the Informed Citizen

What does it mean to be an informed citizen in this brave new world of sound bites, memes, and bots that generate false information? What information should be trusted?

Democracy and the Informed Citizen

Once upon a time, being an informed citizen meant knowing the functions of the three branches of government, reading the newspaper, understanding the issues, and voting. Government class was required for graduating from high school. If Walter Cronkite delivered a story about the Vietnam War, he could be trusted to get it right.

Now it seems we are continually navigating a world of post-truth and alternative facts. Legacy media is under attack. Opinion masquerades as fact. The internet, working to consume our attention and time, delivers news with dizzying speed. What does it mean to be an informed citizen in this brave new world of sound bites, memes, and bots that generate false information? What information should be trusted?

With a grant from the Mellon Foundation, the Federation of State Humanities Councils has set out to answer these questions with a nationwide project in which all 56 state humanities councils are exploring what it means to be an informed citizen in a democracy. In Ohio, we’re tackling the issue of media literacy. Simply put, media literacy is understanding where information originates, the ways in which information can be manipulated, and the motivations prompting what is being shared. In the basic formula for news reporting, writers reveal who, what, where, and why. It seems to me why is now the most important part of that equation.

In two issues of Pathways magazine and this series of podcasts and vlogs, we’ll be presenting articles by journalists and scholars who daily grapple with fact versus fiction, confront attacks on their professional integrity, and in some cases, suffer bodily threat to bring us the information we need to be informed citizens.

 


Cicero Dead! Fake News in Ancient Rome

Fake news and ancient Rome? Yes, that’s a thing. Historian Brendan McCarthy brings the story of Cicero, a man who all of Rome thought to be dead, to life.

With the story of Cicero, Dr. McCarthy shows how we can learn from the past to identify fake news in the present. To find the “truth,” he prescribes a steady diet of sources outside of the social media “bubbles” we create for ourselves.


Is the Press the Enemy?

Jim Robenalt, author and Attorney at Law, shows us the striking comparisons between the current Presidency of Donald Trump and the term of President Richard Nixon. Both presidents disdain and disdained the press, and Robenalt explains why.


It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis

Missy Ricksecker, Communications Director at the Ohio Humanities Council, reviews a 1935 classic, that’s experiencing a sudden rise in popularity today.


Overload: Finding the Truth in Today’s Deluge of News, by Bob Schieffer

David Merkowitz, Assistant Director at the Ohio Humanities Council reviews a seasoned reporter’s take on the current media landscape.


 

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With a grant from the Mellon Foundation, the Federation of State Humanities Councils has set out to answer these questions with a nationwide project in which all 56 state humanities councils are exploring what it means to be an informed citizen in a democracy. In Ohio, we’re tackling the issue of media literacy.