News Literacy in the Digital Age: Final Essay

“The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing” (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 12). But that purpose has no meaning without the concept of news literacy. The onus is on the news consumer to discriminate between credible information and counterfeit journalism and to make informed decisions as an educated citizen. Recently, American citizens grappled with a difficult decision: was the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea the right call? The administration decided to implement some sanctions against some Russian officials, to aid in a diplomatic solution between Ukraine and Russia, and to threaten more sanctions depending on Russia’s adherence to the deal. The U.S. is preparing economic, energy, and governance assistance to Ukraine, and Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry have visited Ukraine. Some journalists and politicians claim that Obama’s moves have not gone far enough while others provide more dovish arguments. To develop an informed opinion within this tornado of information, one must analyze numerous news sources about the topic. Based on direct evidence, credible sources, evidence-based opinion journalism, and a disregard for counterfeit journalism, it is clear that the Obama administration did make the correct decisions with his policy of diplomacy and limited sanctions.

 

An analysis of direct evidence shows that Obama’s initial mild sanctions proportionally punished Russia for annexing Crimea. Anderson Cooper highlights the importance of direct evidence while trying to report about kidnapped children: “… when we start checking the kidnapping story … it seems slim on facts … Warnings, however, aren’t facts” (20). For this topic, one can find facts in a Bloomberg News’ post titled “Russia Facing Recession as Sanctions Likely to Intensify.” It cited Russia’s stock index, the performance of the ruble, investment data, and Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings to say Russia’s economy has been down because of the sanctions and the threats. Contrary to this, many numerous news articles quoted Russian politicians dismissing and mocking U.S. threats and sanctions. Because Bloomberg reporters produced direct evidence and not just assertions, their story counters those assertions. These Bloomberg reporters “opened the freezer,” which is to say, they researched the sanction’s impact for themselves. This is not to say that this evidence conclusively shows that the Russian economy will enter a recession (and the article makes that distinction clear). But this article, more than others, provides the necessary direct evidence.

 

Bloomberg News was one of the only news sources that "opened the freezer" when it came to finding direct evidence about the impact of U.S. sanctions on Russia's economy. Press the picture to find the story.

The National Journal interviewed over 50 defense and foreign policy experts and found that the majority of them do not think that Obama has the leverage to dissuade Russia's President Putin. Click the picture to see the post.

“The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing” - Kovach and Rosenstiel

Listen to NPR's report titled "Western Sanctions On Russia Are A 'Shot Across the Bow'" in which an employee of an information company explains that the U.S. needs the West's support before implementing sanctions. Find the story here as well.

 

 

While Obama’s threats appropriately affected Russia, many credible sources agree that there is not much more Obama can do to deter Putin than facilitate a diplomatic solution. In the National Journal, a poll titled “Security Insiders: Obama Has No Leverage Over Putin” said that a majority of defense and foreign policy experts say there is little Obama can do. It is important to acknowledge that these sources are making assertions about Obama’s powers. Also, the experts are not named in their quotes but all poll participants are listed at the bottom of the article. Although these aspects of this story do make these sources less credible, the fact that they are all very informed, authoritative sources and that plenty of them (over 50) confirm this point, this story’s sources are mostly credible. Additional credible sources in the NPR story titled “Western Sanctions on Russia …” corroborate the argument that Obama’s leverage is limited. In this story, Julia Nanay of IHS Energy, an information company, said that the West needs Russia’s oil and gas and can’t move with sanctions too quickly. Although Nanay is considered independent because of the non-partisan nature of her companies, she is based in America and thus, is not entirely unbiased. She also asserts her arguments. That said, she is an informed, named expert, among multiple sources confirming the same idea. Therefore, she adds to the legitimacy of this argument. In the Wall Street Journal article titled “Russia, U.S. Trade Charges …,” the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine states that it is still too early to decide whether or not the Geneva agreement (facilitated by Kerry) will work. The ambassador is named, authoritative, and informed. Even though he may be considered biased and there are not multiple sources backing him up, he provides the idea that the audience will have to follow the story to see if the United State’s diplomatic solution will work. As of now, it is clear that the Obama administration has done the best it can do.

 

After evaluating direct evidence and credible sources, a news consumer must be open to beliefs that challenge their own with opinion pieces that present the argument in a new context. Charles M. Blow states in March 26 New York Times opinion piece that “the dance between diplomacy and force … is more complicated than sound bites can convey.” Neil Postman and Steve Powers also express the idea that conversations about news topics, such as this Russian ordeal, may not completely encapsulate reality: “there is a difference between the world of events and the world of words about events.” Blow conveys that the words of politicians and political pundits do not provide a realistic approach to the Russian conflict. By bolstering his stance with a CBS Poll, a Defense Department statistic, and a quote from Obama, Blow adds context to the debate: there is no short-term fix to the situation. “So, what to do other than apply economic sanctions and isolate Russia, and diminish a bit of its prestige?” he writes. This showcases that the administration made the best decision it could, given the circumstances. David Ignatius, who presents his opinion in the Washington Post’s “Has the Ukraine crisis been defused?”, also uses historical evidence from America-Russia relations in 1914 to convey that “Obama is no sleepwalker.” Ignatius says the diplomatic solution, thus far, is the right step. “[Obama] has been acutely aware of the dangers in Ukraine … Each side can reasonably claim success.” Many other explainer journalism pieces portray why Obama hasn’t pushed harder sanctions: Bloomberg’s “5 Reasons …” explains that there is not enough concrete evidence to do so yet, that Europeans aren’t on board, that the rewards aren’t clear, and more. The National Journal’s “The White House Doesn’t Know …” also made clear that Putin’s next moves are very unpredictable. With the evidence to back up their claims and the broader context they provide, these opinion pieces convincingly persuade the reader that Obama has done the best he can do.

Many explainer pieces conveyed why Obama is not enabling harsher sanctions. Click the picture to see Bloomberg's "5 Reasons Obama Won't Push Harsher Russia Sanctions — Yet."

Part of forming a well-informed decision also involves discarding unverified information. Tetyana Shvachuk wrote a Fox News online opinion piece titled “Putin’s not finished …” which claims that while Russian officials are in diplomatic talks with Secretary of State John Kerry, they secretly want their own “diplomatic solution”: a fragmentation of Ukraine and a reassembling of the former Soviet Union. This piece is counterfeit opinion journalism as it offers zero evidence or sources for its far-fetched claim. It states that Russia has proposed this plan and made it official. This assertion has not been reported in any news story and has no basis in fact. Therefore, the information contained in this article can be disregarded. Some opinion pieces, however, did powerfully challenge Zakaria’s and Blow’s arguments, like Charles Krauthammer’s series of opinion pieces in the Washington Post that criticize Obama’s response. Although he makes a compelling argument calling Obama weak, ultimately, he does not include the important context surrounding Obama’s difficult decision, and he offers solutions without much consideration of their difficult implementation. John Avlon writes: “Conflict sells and balanced analysis is considered bad for ratings—it takes too long to get to the truth.” The Fox writer enjoyed the conflict that criticizing Obama ensued and did not have the well-put context that Blow and Zakaria did.

 

Ultimately, the direct evidence, credible sources, and challenging opinions outweigh all counterfeit opinion journalism, not credible sources, and illogical opinion. After following this story over months, it is conclusive that Obama made the right decisions in response to Russia’s actions given the impact of the economic sanctions, the lack of U.S. leverage and the context of the complicated nature of this foreign policy issue. While some opinions and evidence in news stories opposed that stance, they were not credible, complete or based on direct evidence. A well-informed decision about the events in the news can only be made after proper examination of the information. Then, a news literate audience can become a flourishing, free, and self-governing society. In “Media Debates,” one commentator, “question(s) whether ‘news can survive the age of information,’ wondering whether the flow of detailed information and the avalanche of news sources made possible by the Internet might diminish the important of news gathered in an orderly fashion and presented in a context by professional news gathers and processer” (110). The author highlights the foreboding truth about the digital age: as the Internet and technology make news easier to produce, the news consumer has even more of a responsibility to sift through the evidence, opinions and sources to determine their final opinion on a range of topics, including the crisis in Ukraine.