Agendas in New Media and Implications for Education Published 2006-10-10

Journalists Mark Halperin and John Harris in an interview the other day on NPR's Fresh Air spoke of the  important (and even critical) role new media played in President Bush's campaigns.  This discussion highlighted an important distinction - that between having a bias and having an agenda.  Halperin (political editor from ABC news) and Harris (national political editor at the Washington Post) represent "old" media and admit that despite efforts to the contrary, political bias can creep into reporting.  Their contention is that traditional journalism includes checks to aid in assuring that facts are correct and stories are balanced.  This does not mean that certain publications don't lean in a particular political direction nor does it mean that there are the Stephen Glasses of the world.  But it does mean that for the most part, journalist try to present their stories free of bias.

New media as defined by websites, blogs, podcasts, and even virtual reality / games [wikipedia] is not as structured as traditional media and as many suggest produces a biased product.  In fact, new media is not so much characterized by bias as by having an agenda.  I choose this word to connote a clear motive behind the content produced.  The content authors choose their subjects to promote their ideals or interests. As a point of fact, this blog represent my agenda and you will rarely read about "back to fundamentals" in a positive light.  This is not to imply that new media is a work in fiction.  The content produced by new media may be factually accurate, but may not represent the whole story.

The transparency of some new media "publications" to promote their agenda offers we educators the opportunity to teach our students how to digest information critically.  Dave Warlick has been discussing this for some time as new literacy and Alan November's presentation "Teaching Zach to Think" provides some extreme examples of why we need to teach our students to question the bias, the agenda, the context of the content that they read, see, hear.

Many point to the proliferation of agenda promoting content on the Web as a reason why we must either prohibit our students from using the Internet for research or should at least restrict them to a pre-selected set of resources.  I argue the contrary - the Web offers us a great opportunity to develop independent thinkers, students who can review information and comment on its worth in a critical manner.

In no subject should students be exempt from being required to question - question the bias of the authors of their textbook, question the agenda behind the websites from which they get information, and question the topics discussed in class.  I am not promoting a culture of anarchists, believers in nothing.  Instead I am advocating a classroom where teachers celebrate bias as a tool for understanding motives and discussing truth.

Take the example Alan November uses in his presentations, that of This site - in case you have not heard - appears to be devoted to Martin Luther King and would appear to be a good source for anyone wanting to learn about the civil rights activist.  Instead, it is sponsored by a white surpremisist group.  The site offers the educator a great resource for students.  Imagine the assignment: Review the site,, discussing historical accuracy and pointing out examples of bias and agenda promotion and support your assertions with authorative sources.

The Web has given us effortless access to a wide range of information, much of which contains bias and written to promote an agenda.  Instead of sheltering our students from this content, we need to embrace it as a tool for developing independent, critical thinkers.

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