Greenwich Time: From Sacred Heart Greenwich to Face the Nation - Grade talks media literacy to students

Greenwich Time: From Sacred Heart Greenwich to Face the Nation - Grade talks media literacy to students

This article originally appeared on the Greenwich Time.

By Justin Papp

“CBS Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan began her address to Upper School students at Sacred Heart Greenwich by stating the obvious.

“Nothing about this year has been expected,” Brennan said from the basement of her home, where, in order to continue her work during the COVID-19 pandemic, she has built a makeshift television studio.

Brennan, a graduate from Sacred Heart’s Class of 1998, made a return of sorts to her alma mater during these uncertain times. Ahead of an important election set to take place during a global pandemic, She came to the students via Zoom on Wednesday and spoke on a range of topics, including media literacy, deciphering well-sourced news from misinformation and the role of journalism in the time of so-called fake news.

“One of the reasons that I get so upset when people say, ‘I just don’t know who to trust anymore,’ is because that being overwhelmed makes people apathetic,” Brennan said. “It makes people say, ‘I just don’t know what to do, so I’m going to opt out.’ And apathy is really dangerous. It is a long-term risk, frankly, to our country and to our national security.”

That feeling of distrust can be avoided, said Brennan, a MediaWise ambassador with the Poynter Institute working to help first-time voters navigate misinformation online.

She spoke out on the importance of seeking to understand the context of news items, paying attention to sourcing to avoid confirmation bias, realizing when stories affirm a person’s preexisting point of view and being aware of foreign actors manipulating social media. She issued the students a sober warning.

“We really need your voices to be informed and to be really active going into November and beyond,” Brennan said. “Because none of the problems our country is facing … goes away on Nov. 4. These are persistent, long-term issues and our country needs all of you to be armed with the best information you can.”

The program was a complement to Sacred Heart’s robust journalism program and was designed to strengthen the students’ understanding of the upcoming election. According to Ellyn Stewart, studio director and broadcast journalism teacher, Sacred Heart has turned out many alumnae who pursue careers in communications, media or film-making.

“It’s a really rigorous program at our school and a really exciting opportunity for students to dive deep into something they can pursue professionally,” Stewart said.

Fifteen of the 19 current broadcast seniors plan to major or minor in communications, journalism, film or media in college, Stewart said. Two current students, Izzy DeVita and Christine Plaster, recently participated in an internship with “Frontline,” a PBS news program, working on a show about the election.

Many of the students were in attendance for Brennan’s talk, which was followed by a question-and-answer session. Senior Rachel Keefe said she was inspired by the way Brennan — who studied the Middle East and foreign affairs while an undergraduate at the University of Virginia — bridged journalism and her interest in international relations.

With the upcoming election, Keefe, who hopes to pursue a career in media, said she takes seriously the role of journalists to provide precise and accurate information — especially with the volume of news that people of her generation must parse.

“It’s really important to me to recognize the ways in which journalists and people in the media have to separate themselves from their own views to get unbiased facts and information out to people,” Keefe said.

The result, otherwise, can be widespread distrust of institutions, including the fourth estate, of which Brennan said she is fearful as a journalist. It could be a problem especially in the context of an election whose results — because of mail-in voting — may be slow to come, she said.

“It’s going to take time,” Brennan warned. “It’s not going to be clear or quick in our results.”

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