There’s no denying the technologies and delivery platforms available for news consumption are ever changing. The volume of information accessible today can appear staggering to average consumers as an unending array of voices and perspectives competes for their attention. Yet amid this melee is one simple truth—not all information is created equally. In other words, some of what’s out there is honest, true and contextual, but much else is nothing more than spin or outright falsehood that seeks to steer public opinion or reinforce ideological strongholds.

In their book, Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload, authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel spell out key truths about this new information age and how journalists and consumers alike can take more initiative to evaluate the myriad of competing claims found on everything from a burgeoning list of websites, cable talk shows, blogs and other social media.

The authors’ message is clear: Audiences must assume more of the gatekeeping role traditionally assigned to journalists for the information they encounter. They advocate an approach known as a “skeptical way of knowing,” or using an evaluative process to determine information’s veracity.

The central questions comprising this method are as follows:

  • What kind of content am I encountering?
  • Is the information complete? If not, what is missing?
  • Who or what are the sources, and why should I believe them?
  • What evidence is presented, and how was it tested or vetted?
  • What might be an alternative explanation or understanding?
  • Am I learning what I need to? If not, what do I still need to learn?

Each chapter of the book focuses on answering one of those bullet points. The narrative is rich with examples from a range of new and traditional media. The text serves as a guidepost for navigating the sometimes perilous and confusing information age we now live in. For that reason, this book is invaluable to any high school or college journalism classroom. Every adviser should read this book and find ways to incorporate its findings and principles into classroom instruction.

While the authors intended for the book to be useful to a wide range of audiences, the book’s target audience is the everyday news and information consumer. As the general public assumes more of the gatekeeping role once assigned to professional journalists, average viewers and readers must understand how to assess information’s veracity and a source’s credibility.

As the authors note in the book, “Democracy stakes everything on a continuing dialogue of informed citizens. And that dialogue rises or falls on whether the discussion is based on propaganda or deceit or on facts and verification pursued with a mind willing to learn.” That last part of the quote is essential. The individual’s mind must be willing to interpret, engage, think and question. Simply accepting viewpoints and ideas that confirm what one already believes doesn’t enhance that dialogue so necessary for the survival of democracy.

But this is perhaps another reason that stakes claim to the importance of scholastic journalism programs—that is precisely the place where students do learn these skills so necessary for engaged citizenship in a digital era.