St. Louis-area voters are facing a barrage of political commercials, 24/7 news coverage and constant social media posts days before the Nov. 8 general election.
The volume of media stimuli about political races and ballot measures that voters soon will decide upon can be overwhelming, confusing and contradictory.
So how can the public identify reliable information from the clutter of commercials and campaign mailers as well as either misleading claims or false information bombarding them every day?
A consortium of local and national organizations is hosting a public dialogue, “Local Media and Informed Voting,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the downtown St. Louis Public Library to help voters sort through the blizzard of political media.
The event is part of the national Media Literacy Week, which runs from Monday through Friday. Public dialogues throughout the country are organized by the American Society of News Editors, the American Press Institute and the News Literacy Project.
The forum on Olive Street downtown will involve partnerships with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Public Radio, the St. Louis Press Club and Gateway Media Literacy Partners.
The public dialogue is free, but people who plan to attend should register online at STLtoday.com/literacy.
The St. Louis discussion will involve a moderator engaging the community members with panelists Shula Neuman, executive director of St. Louis Public Radio; a local television reporter; Andrew Allen Smith, an assistant professor of arts, media and communications at Lindenwood University; and me in my role as editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
So what is media literacy and why does it matter, especially during a highly polarized election cycle?
Smith described media literacy as “being able to decode media messages and the intention of the media creator.”
The omnipresence of social media and algorithms that sort social media feeds means people can live within a “relative truth,” he said.
“We are able to filter out information we don’t want to see,” which affects people across the political spectrum, Smith said. Some people see the value of the news media while others excoriate it, which influences how they consume all forms of media.
Smith encourages the public to ask: “What is the purpose of this information” and question how it is sourced and how it was derived. A story trending on Twitter or Facebook is not an indicator of its value or veracity.
ASNE, in describing its mission, says: “The media are essential to a democratic election. To that end, local news in particular has a role in helping to facilitate the process where voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process in order to make informed decisions.”
Such dialogues are designed “to build a community discussion about critical thinking skills in media consumption that underlies being an informed voter and active citizen.”
The National Community and News Literacy Roundtables began last year in seven U.S. cities. This year 15 forums are planned across the country, including St. Louis.
The National Association for Media Literacy Education, composed of educators, academics, activists and students, is helping to coordinate the partnerships through the country.
“It is vital in today’s participatory culture for learners of all ages to understand how to access, analyze, evaluate, communicate and create all forms of media, especially in the midst of the presidential election season,” said the media literacy education group’s executive director, Michelle Ciulla Lipkin.
The Gateway Media Literacy Partners in St. Louis has sponsored community forums for the last 10 years and now is partnering with the national media literacy week efforts.
An excellent, nonpartisan tool for voters to be informed about the Nov. 8 election is the Post-Dispatch online voters guide, which allows them to preview their ballot as it will appear. The online link is STLtoday.com/votersguide.
The guide has information from the candidates and summaries of the ballot measures as gathered by the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis. The print guide was published Oct. 28 and can be obtained by calling the League’s voter hotline at 314-961-6869.