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Opinion: Can Irish media users identify trustworthy news sources?

A recent Irish survey found that social media users are among the most media-savvy consumers of news, writes Niamh Kirk.

Image: Shutterstock/Kaspars Grinvalds

AHEAD OF THE European and Local elections in May, there is a renewed focus on media literacy – something that is critical to citizens making informed decisions.

This week is European Media Literacy Week, an initiative by the European Commission aiming to highlight the importance of media literacy and promote media initiatives and projects across the EU.

With heightened concerns regarding the quality of information available to citizens and declining levels of public trust in the fourth estate, media literacy initiatives seek to empower and inform citizens.

The 2018 Reuters Digital News Report survey, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, examined levels of news literacy among Irish online news consumers as part of a wider survey of general news attitudes and preferences.  

Respondents were asked four questions to measure their knowledge of journalism production and distribution.

The multiple choice questions asked respondents to identify the state-funded media outlet, the financial status of the newspaper industry, the person who writes a press release, and how algorithms shape social media newsfeeds.

It found that only about 3% of news consumers were wholly informed about news production, getting all four questions about journalism correct.

About 33% were fairly news literate regarding some aspects of journalism, getting two of the four questions correct.

About one-third of people got half, or more of the questions correct showing higher levels of news literacy.

The results indicate that men have slightly higher levels of literacy than women and younger people tend to be only slightly more literate than older age groups.

Higher income, higher education and higher engagement with news on a daily basis are also factors shaping higher levels of news and media literacy.

Platforms

However, the research shows that where people get their media also affects media literacy.

The overall highest news literacy was among users of news websites and apps (40%) and radio (30%), while the lowest literacy levels were among consumers of printed magazines and newspapers (both 23%).

News websites and apps have an enhanced capacity to be transparent about the news production process with features like tracking changes to articles and linking to public sources used.

However, there are still questions around how explicit news websites are when it comes to sourcing, such as citing that the article was provoked by a press release or through political communications.   

Social media is often viewed as problematic in terms of news literacy.

However, the survey found that social media users are slightly more literate (29%) than newspaper and magazine readers, as well as rolling TV viewers (28%) and TV bulletin viewers (26%).

overall literacy

Online Sources

Online readers of established news brands show higher levels of news literacy, particularly readers of the Guardian (53%) and The Irish Times (47%) as well as digital born brands like TheJournal.ie (42%).

Additionally, dedicated regional newspaper readers are among the most media literate news consumers (43%).

But just 28% of Sky news online users had high levels of news literacy. Online tabloid readers, in particular, showed lower levels of news literacy compared to digital broadsheet readers.

The high percentage of media literate consumers of The Guardian might in part be explained by the outlet’s dedicated media analysis section that critically evaluates and investigates the industry.

Similarly, in the effort to build subscribers during financially challenging times, The Guardian increased transparency regarding their news production processes and enhanced engagement between the audience and news producers.

It was the first British title to have a readers’ editor.

Amid all the initiatives to support news consumers, it is worth remembering that providing readers with a window into newsrooms can lead to a better understanding of how journalism is produced.

literacy by news brand

Political Leaning

Much of the hype around fake news, conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns have focused on fringe right-wing conservatives.

Distrust of mainstream media is a common theme among alt-right commentators for example. This research indicates that people who said they had a right-wing leaning were found to have slightly lower levels of literacy than those who say they lean left.

Trust

News literacy is also associated with the levels of trust in the news.  

Amid the debate about the quality of information on social media, the impact on the audience and the efforts of social giants to tackle disinformation – this indicates that those with higher levels of trust in news on social media have lower levels of news literacy.

Previous research has found that users often do not recognise news brands on social media. This raises questions as to what social media companies can do to support users in making informed choices about what they click on or scroll past.

Be media smart

In 2016 the BAI launched a Media Literacy Policy which “sets out a range of skills to help people to navigate current, new and emerging content platforms.”

“The survey findings and wider concerns about disinformation underscore the need for media literacy to help people be informed about the media they consume,” said BAI chief executive Michael O’Keeffe. 

It is European Media Literacy Week 2019  and Be Media Smart is a public awareness campaign running across media platforms to encourage people of all ages to ‘Stop, Think, and Check’ that the information they see, read or hear is reliable.

Be Media Smart is an initiative of Media Literacy Ireland, which is an independent network of volunteer members, facilitated by the BAI, working together to enhance Irish people’s understanding of, and engagement with media. 

Niamh Kirk is a Media and Journalism Researcher in DCU, School of Communications and FuJo Institute examining journalism, digital networks, information flows and transnationalism.  

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