Media.Education.Literacy. Qualitative expert interviews on initiatives for the mediation of media literacy by media companies


Targeted disinformation is not a new phenomenon, but in the form of so-called 'fake news' it is one great challenge of our time. After all, fake information from the fields of politics, business and science not only damages the credibility of established media brands (Lazer et al., 2018; Wardle/Derakhshan, 2017), but also manipulates opinions and thus can influence political debates, economic as well as social well-being (Vosoughi et al., 2018). In order to contain the scope and severity of the consequences of such targeted disinformation, recipients must be (news) media literate. This includes the ability to handle media of all kinds and to use them in communication and action (Baacke, 1996). The concept of media literacy has been differentiated to date and supplemented by other skills, such as dealing with digital media (e.g. Gilster, 1997; Tulodziecki, 2007; Hobbs, 2010).
News media literacy can be defined as part of the concept of media literacy, which focuses specifically on the ability to analyze, evaluate and communicate news as well as to understand the economic structures of media production (Vrage et al., 2015). This ability is essential of being a responsible citizen nowadays. The question is, however, who should and can teach this ability. A recent study on the teaching of media literacy in general education schools in Thuringia (Germany) shows clear deficits in terms of personnel, time and technical resources (Wolling/Berger 2018). Purely theoretically, it would make sense to assign the teaching of media literacy to those who are most likely to possess it: media companies. Such initiatives in Germany have so far hardly been researched. Therefore, this research project is dedicated to the following questions:

FF1: To what extent do german media companies feel responsible for teaching media competence?

FF2: How are these initiatives designed?

FF3: What is the motivation behind these initiatives?

To answer these research questions, qualitative interviews with experts from selected media companies were conducted from October 2019 to January 2020 and subsequently evaluated. The focus was on public broadcasters (SWR, BR) as well as supra regional (SZ, FAZ) and local media companies (Main-Post, Mittelbayerische Zeitung, Mindener Tageblatt) that are implementing projects to impart media literacy.

The results initially show a clear focus on the target group of students and their teachers. Various feelings of responsibility could be found, which can mainly be divided into role and task responsibilities of the media houses. As far as motivation is concerned, unsurprisingly, extrinsic motives were mentioned, such as the attempt to regain or rebuild the recipients’ trust and to gain new users. Nevertheless, intrinsic motives such as promoting participation in political discourse also played an important role.

We therefore conclude, that the teaching of media literacy by journalists in schools seems to be a way to combat disinformation more effectively than only conveyed by teachers, who often have a knowledge deficit in this area. However, there are also challenges that hamper this work.