In the past it was easy - at nine o'clock the BBC news bulletin came on to let us know what was going on in the world. There were other options, such as a detailed read of the Economist or newspaper of choice, but in general news was something that was shared - if not among the whole community, then within social groups.

This began to change. When I was working at the BBC World Service a real distinction developed in our output, between 'appointment to listen' programmes (where people would tune in specifically) and the stuff that people dipped in and out of. As even the former began to be chopped up for podcasts, for social media, and for 'listen-again' or highlights services (often distributed via social media) the distinction began to blur. News began to be something that is sought out and sampled on the consumer's own terms - often mitigated and sifted through social media choices and selections. It evolved from a set tasting menu to a la carte to breakfast buffet.

News now comes at us from all angles on all devices at all times of the day from a multitude of sources. Traditional providers have slashed costs and tried to do more with less. Many have gone out of business, some have resorted to more sensationalist treatments, and many others are a pale shadow of their former selves. All sorts of other organisations - from NGOs and corporations, pressure groups and teenagers in their bedrooms - have also pushed into the same space marked by that strange word 'content', and started producing material that puts forward their own views on the issues that matter to them.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. After many good years at the BBC I began working at a foreign policy think tank. Part of our job was producing blog posts, podcast interviews, videos and social media content, all aimed at pushing our own views and influencing people. We like to think that this was mostly a good thing for those who wanted a more expert and in-depth exploration of foreign affairs. But it would be easy to see how a pressure group with a particular viewpoint on an issue, or a corporation trying to sell a product, might not be such a good thing - especially if it led consumers into a filter bubble where they were being exposed only to one side of a story, or to misinformation. Those BBC values of balance and neutrality that underpinned my journalistic life, are not the values that many pretend to aspire to any more.

This digitally-powered revolution in journalism has made it much harder for people to be both passive consumers of news and well informed. This is, of course, something even more relevant to the young. The good journalism is out there, but are we able to sift through the chaff to find it?

This is the central idea behind what I'm currently working on with IgnitED. It is especially important that younger people, even more immersed in their individual digital worlds, are able to develop the skills and sensibility to understand the news and the world around them.
      
To do this they need to get their heads around the disruption caused by digital technology, and the response of both traditional and new providers of content. What is true and what is false? What is intriguing and what is mere clickbait? What is balanced and what is biased? Can you escape your own private echo chamber? Such understanding is at the heart of what it will mean to be a global citizen in our digital 21st century.


The above post was written by Nicholas Walton, who is writing IgnitED's next Module, entitled "How to Read the News".  It's an extensive, interactive foray into modern day news media, which teaches students how to think about the data thrown at them from various disparate sources and hopefully learn how to make sense of it all.

Nicholas brings extensive experience to the writing of this Module. He has degrees from Oxford and King’s College London, and spent 14 years working in foreign news with the BBC, including time as foreign correspondent and Europe Editor in the World Service newsroom. He was also communications director of the award winning think tank, the European Council on Foreign Relations. Last but not least he is an author - Genoa, 'La Superba': the Rise and Fall of a Merchant Pirate Superpower about the history, delights and seedy underbelly of Genoa, was published this year.