Note: Weather conditions have resulted in Barbara McCormack’s flight being canceled. Her Feb. 12 visit to Lawrence has been rescheduled for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19.
Barbara McCormack and her team at the Freedom Forum Institute are on a mission to teach people how to be better consumers of media.
That’s no small task.
“It’s a scary time for the First Amendment,” says McCormack, vice president of education at the nonprofit Freedom Forum.
She’ll bring her message about media literacy, politics and the challenges of navigating a free press to Lawrence University for a 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19 government colloquium in Room 102 of Steitz Hall. It is free and open to the public.
In an age when fake news is a thing, social media is a preferred outlet, news programs blur the lines between news and opinion, the president paints the media as enemies of the people and newsroom staffs are being downsized across the media landscape, the dangers of being lazy in your media consumption are real.
“Now, we’re all gatekeepers of information,” McCormack said. “With that, we all have to decide what to share, what not to share, what’s reliable, what’s not, and we’re doing this with no formal training. And not doing a very good job of it, quite honestly.”
Thus, McCormack and her team are on the road a lot. They have 35 workshops, classes or lectures scheduled during the first quarter of 2019. They meet with community groups, religious groups, students, journalists and more.
“Everyone is worried about this topic,” McCormack said. “We all understand the impact.”
She’s not here to tell you which news outlets you should trust. She’s here to push you to do the work so you can make informed decisions on your own. She hopes her lectures and workshops provide participants with the tools to do that. And when you find those outlets you trust, be confident enough to pony up for a subscription, digital or otherwise, to support the quality journalism they are doing.
The prevalence of fake news and the ease in which it’s created has added to the confrontational nature of today’s politics, said Arnold Shober, associate professor of government at Lawrence. He invited McCormack to Lawrence to further that conversation about blurred lines and how to navigate the daily onslaught of information so you become a better informed consumer, citizen and voter.
“We don’t know our politicians personally, at least most of us don’t,” Shober said. “The news is a filter we have.”
Besides its outreach work, the Freedom Forum operates the Newseum in Washington, D.C. It recently announced that it plans to sell the building that houses the decade-old museum dedicated to news and the First Amendment amid budget concerns.
It’s one more hit that speaks to the fractured financial state of media today. But it doesn’t diminish the message or slow the work the Freedom Forum is doing.
“We’re really hoping that by teaching media literacy, teaching responsibility to consumers, that along the way we will also instill an appreciation for the role a free press plays in our democracy,” McCormack said. “And hopefully send consumers out seeking quality news. We want them to have the skills to do that, to find those reliable sources.”