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CHAPTER VII - Leadership & Education

Investment initiatives, grant programs and regulatory changes are all levers available for policymakers, but participants were passionate that the context of the current new media environment needs to be addressed. Political polarization is the “new normal” in the United States and that has undermined the ability of the federal government to function effectively. To the extent that media content is a cause of polarization, government intervention to address this is likely to do more harm than good. It would also run up against First Amendment protections for freedom of speech. Although regulatory or legislative action is likely to be unwise in addressing media content, participants thought that leadership (from government officials, business leaders and community leaders) could play a constructive role. In the aftermath of the incidents in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalist protests resulted in the death of one protester, Reed Hundt said that statements by public officials can have an impact. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, for instance, quickly condemned the actions of “racists & white nationalists” following the unrest in Charlottesville. Education is another topic that participants raised and, in a sense, it is the other side of the coin when thinking about leadership. Citizens have an obligation to bolster their capacity to be effective participants in the new media landscape. People should devote time to understanding issues and exploring the reliability of the sources of information about issues of the day. Information literacy—recognizing when information is needed and having the ability to locate, evaluate and effectively use the needed information—is something for society to cultivate. At present, there may not be well-developed models on how to foster information literacy in the digital age. One possibility for a place where models for information literacy might take hold is the public library. According to a survey of local government officials, commissioned by the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries and the International City/County Management Association, half (51%) of government officials see digital literacy as a high or very high priority for their communities and nearly two-thirds (65%) of government officials say digital literacy should be an important or very important priority for libraries. Although digital literacy pays attention to skills and not on how to determine whether information is reliable, the public’s high regard for libraries suggests that libraries could constructively provide resources for the public on information literacy. Non-profit models are also worth exploration. For example, Common Sense Media develops information and advice to help “kids thrive in a world of media and technology.” Recent events in the United States suggest that such resources might benefit all ages. It is also worth noting the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s recent announcement of an initiative to support trusted journalism in the service of a healthy democracy. Participants did not endorse any single approach to education and information literacy, but the discussion on leadership and education underscores the need to have those two forces working in tandem.

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