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I used to teach a class called photojournalism. I usually referred to it as “digital journalism,” because people assumed we were a photography class. Students created videos, podcasts, documentaries, and blogs with the goal of sharing their work with an authentic audience. On the surface, this might not seem all that practical. After all, newspapers are slashing their budgets and laying off staff. Why teach an elective class in a subject that doesn’t connect to a decent job market?

But here’s the thing: whether we feel like it or not, we are all citizen journalists. We are all researchers. We are all sharing information online and publishing it on social media. We are all curating and producing content even if only a fragment of the population creates videos, podcasts, or blog posts. Social media is a fusion of space (social) and publishing (medium). Although it can simply feel like a place to hang out, every social media platform uses elements of traditional media. Just look at the terms: subscribers, news feed, followers, publish.


The gatekeepers are gone, which means it is easier than ever to publish your work to the world. This is exciting. I get to write a blog a few times a week. I get to make sketchy videos and post them to YouTube and Facebook. I get to record a podcast. I love digital media.

But there’s a cost. It’s also easier than ever to spread misinformation. And fake news has become a real issue in recent times. Here’s a disturbing trend from the last U.S. election:


source: Buzzfeed News

We see this with students. According to a Stanford study, only 25% of high school students were able to identify an accurate news story when also given a fake one. Students also had a hard time distinguishing between real and fake photographs as well as authentic and staged videos.

Researchers used the words “bleak” and “dismaying” to describe it. But it’s not going away anytime soon and that’s a very real problem.

So, how do we fix it?

Well, here’s a five-step process that I’ve used with students. A word of caution. It’s not perfect and there are probably other models out there but I thought I would share it just in case you might want to use it. We call it the 5 C’s of Critical Consuming.

The 5 C’s of Critical Consuming.

#1: Context – Look at the context of the article. When was it written? Where does it come from? Have the events changed since then? Is there any new information that could change your perspective?

#2: Credibility – Check the credibility of the source. Does the site have a reputation for journalistic integrity? Does the author cite credible sources? Or is it satirical? Is it on a list of fake news sites? Is it actually an advertisement posing as a real news story?

#3: Construction. Analyze the construction of the article. What is the bias? Are there any loaded words? Any propaganda techniques? Any omissions that you should look out for? Can you distinguish between the facts and opinions? Or is it simply all speculation?

#4: Corroboration: Corroborate the information with other credible news sources. Make sure it’s not the only source making the claim. If it is, there’s a good chance it’s actually not true.

#5: Compare: Compare it to other news sources to get different perspectives. Find other credible sources from other areas of the ideological or political spectrum to provide nuance and get a bigger picture of what’s actually happening.

When we teach students media literacy, and they learn how to consume critically, they learn how to think critically. And critical thinking citizens are good for democracy. And that’s good for everyone.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me


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