What happens when you search the internet for a restaurant you’ve heard about and the establishment doesn’t have a website? You probably skip it and move on to the next option. Our laptops and smart phones have become instrumental filters for decision making.

It’s not a new phenomenon, though the pandemic amplified online buying, interaction and socialization exponentially. Access to a plethora of information is immediate, consuming, addictive. And despite how inaccurate, false or biased, there’s no denying how intensively and hungrily we consume it.

Today every business is potentially in the media business. Whether you sell music or ball bearings, pet food or insurance you communicate with customers, prospects, influencers and stakeholders who crisscross your professional and personal universes. If we maintain a website, send out emails, use Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, LinkedIn, Instagram or other online accounts, each of us is a media consumer and a propagator.

My roots are in broadcast journalism. After more than 30 years working as a producer for NBC News, I moved to higher ed. Now, as a professor and program director at Sacred Heart University, I’m helping to teach and guide students who will be tomorrow’s business owners, reporters, marketing professionals, producers, corporate spokespeople and public relations professionals.

It’s a different world from when I was at 30 Rockefeller Plaza— streaming options have forced the primary networks to reinvent themselves to survive with smaller audiences. And local television stations are booming as media companies and everyone else seek programming to engage viewers, attract advertisers and drive attention to their websites.

Unfortunately, many newspapers have been largely gutted. Meanwhile, platforms like YouTube, Facebook and TikTok —along with a practically infinitesimal universe of websites and creative tools to support them— have exploded and turned practically anyone with access to a computing device an editor, designer, reporter, publicist and propagandist extraordinaire.

This, of course, is a huge problem. Without a reliable foundation for discovering and vetting news and information—the “who, what, where, why and when” that define good journalism—too much of what we read and hear is either infotainment posing as news or, worse, blatantly false.

Although the mainstream news industry has made positive strides toward being more inclusive, what also is needed is a public able to discern the truth. Without respect for true journalistic integrity, trusted sources and reliable facts, we have thousands of options amplifying our own echo chamber. All too often people seek out sources of news and information that validate them emotionally and suit their political or cultural ideologies.

When I ask my students where they get their news, inevitably it’s online and procured through their phones. Understanding and pursuing accurate sources of information, I tell them, is critical to honest journalism and effective writing. That includes the ability to ask pertinent, probing questions and follow-up queries, and developing the skillset to be mentally agile and proficient in deduction, reasoning and good story-telling.

Teaching reliable information-gathering and media literacy should be a standard part of every K-12 curriculum in America. Students must learn, from a young age, how the media works, its role in society and culture and how to separate real news from willful, lazy or sloppy misinformation.

Every day we witness facts being abused, twisted and manipulated through biased reporting across extreme right- or left-leaning news venues. Social media platforms, which aggregate news, however erroneous, thrive on disinformation and antagonism—angry users drive traffic and increased advertising revenues. And if we need a case study in propaganda and false news, observe how effectively Russia is manipulating information to keep its own citizens in the dark about the heinous war Putin is conducting in Ukraine.

Students should be literate about how government works, our Constitution and the critical role objective media plays in honoring truth and preserving a democratic society. We must teach the value of accurate reporting, and ensure tomorrow’s leaders have the necessary tools to seek out and insist on the truthful sharing of information in every aspect of their lives and work.

Communication-related degrees, including journalism and media programs, are essential and lead to rich vocational paths. We see how misinformation, conspiracy theories, so-called “alternate facts” and lies are tearing our country apart. Without a nationwide commitment to news literacy in education, which would help strengthen the ability to distinguish fact from fiction, we risk falling under the spell of charlatans and self-serving interests who understand, far too well, the dangers they face from a fair and honest media and those who respect and seek out the truth.

Joseph A. Alicastro is director of the masters in journalism & media production program in the School of Communication, Media & the Arts at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, and a former producer for NBC news for more than 30 years.