Recent Florida Gulf Coast University graduate Kristen Locker knew she was going to be an Eagle from a young age.
Locker, a Southwest Florida native of Englewood, was awarded a scholarship to FGCU in the seventh grade by winning at a state-level science fair. But picking up a camera in high school and discovering a love for photography made her shift her focus from science to journalism. Little did she know that choice would lead her to national recognition as the News Literacy Project’s 2020 Gwen Ifill Student of the Year, an award named in honor of the trailblazing Black journalist.
“I’ve always been very creative, and I knew I wanted to do something creative with my career. I chose journalism as my outlet to do so,” said Locker.
Once she arrived at FGCU, she hit the ground running to pursue this passion. Her love for writing allowed Locker to open up and get involved with campus activities. She served as the graphic design editor for Eagle News, the student newspaper.
“Journalism paved the way because I got to write stories about various people, places and events that were happening,” explained Locker. “I had a lot of opportunities to branch out and meet people during my time at FGCU.”
One particular course opened her eyes to another side of journalism. “News Literacy,” taught by Professor Lyn Millner, examines journalism’s role in society and how news is reviewed for relevancy and disseminated to the public. As the class description states, its goal is “to help students become more critical consumers of media.”
“It stood out to me because I was not really familiar with news before I went to college,” said Locker. “It made me aware of what is really out there, what you can trust, what you can’t trust and how to sift through information.”
Locker enjoyed the news literacy course so much, it motivated her to become a teaching assistant for Millner the following year.
“It was fascinating to see freshmen grow from what they thought about news to how they see it now,” she said. “I believe it is important to be open to having a conversation with someone who might think differently from you and be able to sit there together to find the facts about the topic.”
Locker’s passion and enthusiasm in the classroom prompted Millner to encourage Locker to apply for an award that celebrates news literacy. The News Literacy Project is a national, nonpartisan education nonprofit that provides educators and journalists with programs and resources to be smart, active consumers of news and information.
“She really gets news literacy,” said Millner. “Each course assistant is asked to deliver a talk on a topic within news literacy. Kristen presented on video verification tools, which was especially appropriate because she has aspirations in film.”
Last fall, Millner nominated Locker for the News Literacy Project award, which is presented annually to a female student of color who represent the values Gwen Ifill brought to journalism. Ifill was the first Black woman to host a political talk show on national television. She was also part of the first female co-anchor team on a national news broadcast.
“I get to represent Gwen Ifill, an African-American woman who paved the way for young journalists,” said Locker. “It makes you understand that the work you put in is really something, and you are putting that good work out for other people to see.”
Locker received a congratulatory call from the News Literacy Project in June. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she received the award virtually. She was commended by the organization for using the program Checkology, which helped her navigate where to get news and not take information at face value.
“One thing that stood out about Kris was that she beat every single assignment deadline,” said Millner. “Her time-management skills were downright inspiring. In fact, she is now a verb in my vocabulary. When I want to get something done early and well, I say I’m going to ‘Locker-ize’ it.”
This fall, Locker will begin a master’s of fine arts program in film production at the University of Central Florida. She hopes to incorporate everything she has learned to create engaging stories that can serve the masses from both educational and entertainment standpoints.
Locker encourages every FGCU student, regardless of their major, to take a news literacy course to become more aware of information circulating the internet and learn how to decipher fake from fact.
“I think news literacy is just as important as being literate in anything else,” she said. “If there is something you don’t understand about a topic or a candidate, I cannot stress enough the importance of researching, knowing it inside and out, and then being able to take the facts and share them in an educated sense to where we are not holding onto biases.”
Learn more about FGCU’s journalism program