“Fostering a free society that is media literate will help promote more robust and productive civil discourse—which is one of the foundations of our democracy, after all.”—Rep. Lisa Cutter
Changes at one of the schools where I substitute are creating deep uncertainty about the future and a fertile environment for the spread of misinformation.
Responding to this situation, the school’s pastor advised students to avoid the rumor mill. With all students assembled, he suggested that when they hear something, they should ask about the source in order to judge whether the information is reliable. He also cautioned students against sharing any information that was not certain.
The same advice could apply to news in general.
Changes In News Landscape
Since the proposal of the First Amendment, the idea has prevailed in the U.S. that people could make good decisions about civic matters, as long as they have adequate information. As part of the Scripps organization, the Rocky Mountain News published under the motto “Give light and people will find their way.”
The Rocky, like many newspapers, has ceased publication, and now straight news can be hard to discern in a media landscape where it is mixed with advocacy, deliberate deception, opinion disguised as comedy, and more, Navigational aids are needed and they’re available through the development of news (or media) literacy.
Definitions of news literacy vary, but critical thinking seems to be a common component, mentioned slightly more often than civic engagement.
The website schooljournalism.org introduces the topic with more of an explanation than a definition. It states, “News literacy is the acquisition of 21st-century critical thinking skills for analyzing and judging the reliability of news and information, differentiating among facts, opinions and assertions in the media we consume, create and distribute.” The website adds, “It is a necessary component for literacy in contemporary society.”
Organizations Lead Charge
Organizations taking leading roles in news literacy include:
Pew Research Center: Pew, https://www.journalism.org, often ferrets out information on opinions and behaviors related to media from many angles. The headline about a 2019 survey states, “Many Americans Say Made-Up News is a Critical Problem that Needs to be Fixed: Politicians viewed as major creators of it, but journalists seen as the one who should fix it.”
Media Literacy Now: A Massachusetts media literacy advocate founded this organization to spark policy action in other states, many of which now have chapters of the organization. Its website, https://medialiteracynow.org, contains a January 2020 report indicating that Ohio, Texas and Florida lead the nation in media literacy education, while Washington and New Mexico are progressing leaders and Colorado is among nine states that are emerging leaders.
Center for Media Literacy: One focus of this organization is “translating media literacy research and theory into practical information.” Resources provided online at https://www.medialit.org include evidence-based curricula, a glossary of media terms and discussions of what media literacy is and isn’t. The center, which is concerned with an array of media, grew out of MediaValues magazine, which was founded in 1977 by Elizabeth Thoman.
The Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University: More than 10,000 Stony Brook students have taken courses offered through this center, which is operated through the School of Journalism with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. In addition, the center and its outreach partners have brought courses to more than 7,000 students at 18 universities in the U.S. and 11 foreign countries. Copious free resources are available at https://www.centerfornewsliteracy.org/about-the-center/.
Schooljournalism.org: The American Society of Newspaper Editors, https://members.newsleaders.org/youth-journalism, created the school journalism site to be a go-to place for students and teachers. Its News & Media Literacy Corner, https://www.schooljournalism.org/category/news-literacy-corner/, consolidates resources from a variety of sources for students, professionals and educators.
News Literacy Project: The project’s mission is to empower “educators to teach students the skills they need to become smart, active consumers of news and other information and engaged, informed participants in civic life.” The website https://newslit.org contains both free and subscription-based resources for students and teachers, while staff travel the U.S. and beyond, bringing their message to interested adults and delivering hands-on media workshops for educators.
CPW Is Local Champ
Locally, Colorado Press Women, where I’m a long-time member, is among the champions of news literacy. The organization sponsored presentations by Damaso Reyes of the News Literacy Project at the Denver Press Club and at the University of Colorado Boulder College of Media, Information and Communication (which is my alma mater). CPW also developed partnerships with the Colorado Language Arts Society and Colorado Student Media Association. Members of those organizations were among the participants in a full-day, hands-on workshop presented by the News Literacy Project at the local NBC affiliate, KUSA.
CPW supported legislation introduced by Rep. Lisa Cutter that takes the first steps in assuring media literacy is integrated into the k-12 curriculum in Colorado public schools. A bill signed governor signed into law on June 3, 2019, created an advisory committee to work with the Colorado Department of Education to develop recommendations for implementing media literacy in schools through revising standards in reading, writing, and civics.
Next steps will include the passage of additional legislation based on recommendations of the report, which can be found at https://www.cde.state.co.us/standardsandinstruction/mlaclegislativereport2020.
CPW members also took advantage of formal news literacy training offered by Denver Public Library, https://www.denverlibrary.org/blog/research/genine/civic-literacy-your-news-factchecking-news-sources.
News literacy is a multi-layered topic worthy of extensive exploration. Foundational elements include the First Amendment, the free press, critical thinking, and civic engagement. In addition, news literacy has its own vocabulary with expressions like confirmation bias, truth sandwich, and deep fake, and a toolbox of techniques ranging from reverse image searches to lateral reading.
Meanwhile, applying critical thinking to news and rumors and acting accordingly are good first steps in the practice of news literacy.
Marilyn Saltzman, a retired public information officer from one of the state’s largest school districts, was my guest editor for this post. She has taken a leadership role in Colorado Press Women’s news literacy efforts and partnership with the News Literacy Project, and she served on the Colorado Media Literacy Advisory Committee. Her book Your Love is Blasting My Heart: A Grandmother’s Journey is available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Your-Love-Blasting-Heart-Grandmothers-ebook/dp/B085G35H1F/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=Marilyn+Saltzman&qid=1583601293&sr=8-2 .
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