Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Making News Today: Literacy for Citizenship

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Making News Today: Literacy for Citizenship

Article excerpt

Introduction

This paper is the result of an evaluation of the Making News Today Project. It looks specifically at the potential of the Making News Today Project and the teaching of ethical journalism as a means of also teaching citizenship literacy.

In 2005 The University of Wollongong, in partnership with WIN television and Apple Computers, launched a three-year project, Making News Today. In the project, participating secondary school students learn to analyze and create media products using the resources provided by the three partners.

The project is founded on the premise that our society continues to become increasingly more complex and people are confronting a range of often competing social, political, economic and environmental issues. The project is designed to equip high school students with the multiple literacy skills necessary to negotiate this increasing social complexity (Blackall et al. 2004).

This paper takes an expansive view of literacy, defining it in a sociocultural context (Gee 1996, Perez 1998). Literacy is more than an act of reading and writing; it is about the creation and sharing of meaning through language. This tradition sees literacy as a social and cultural construct, and it is possible to talk about not a single literacy but multiple literacies. In this tradition, literacy is understood as both a process and product. It is the act of composing a literacy product as well as the product itself. People use the resource of language to create literacy products or artefacts through which meaning is mediated. The theory of multiple literacies is useful in understanding literacy in a society and culture rich in media and information and communication technologies. In 21st century societies, particularly the societies found in Western style advanced capitalist states, literacy is processed and mediated through these technologies, whether it is the more traditional print media or the most advanced and emergent digital technologies.

In a theory of multiple literacies, literacy is not values neutral. Rather it is a contested social practice with competing political interests (Luke et al. 1997). We use literacy to achieve political outcomes. Literacy is the means through which people interact in the world. It is through the human capacity for speech and the ability to create and share meaning that we are able to reach the necessary consensus to achieve the political cohesion for social, economic, cultural and technological advancement that has come to define modernity (Habermas 1984, 1987). Literacy is fluid. It is in a constant state of flux, where meanings sometimes coalesce and build consensus, while at other times they collide and create division. For Habermas, rational discourse occurs where we communicate as equals to create consensus. Non-rational discourse is where literacy is used not to build consensus, but as an instrument of power. Literacy has a strong association with citizenship (Luke et al. 1997). The growth in literacy is closely intertwined with the rise of the modern democratic state. For complex Western style representational democracy to work, the citizenry needs to have a reasonable level of literacy in order to both understand the process and also to be able to make informed decisions concerning their political representatives.

We move in a media rich society. Our various literacies are increasingly mediated through popular media and information and communication technologies (De Zengotita 2005). These convergent technologies are woven into our social fabric. Everything, from the more traditional daily newspaper, through to the endlessly evolving digital media, spins the complex, intricate and at times unfathomable and invisible web of communication.

Working within the ethical framework of Making News Today, students learn how to research, construct and deliver a news media product for television. This is based on the assumption that ethical processes across all professions are served through referring to a code, while having constant dialogue with stakeholders or partners in the process. …

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