Teaching News Literacy

March 15, 2013

In many localities, youth groups and community organizations are creating alternatives to mainstream journalism using the rich resources of digital media. Critical-thinking skills and news literacy (the ability to distinguish fact from fiction, opinion, or propaganda) are essential tools for students and other citizens who are trying to collect, analyze, and disseminate accurate information to their communities. At the Digital Media and Learning Conference (#dml2013) in Chicago, representatives from six community groups came together in a March 15 panel discussion to share their techniques for teaching news literacy.

Peter Adams of the News Literacy Project worked with the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom in 2012 to hold “News Know-how” workshops at 10 public libraries to teach students in grades 10–12 basic news literacy skills. He said that such old-school journalistic standards as documentation, sourcing, fairness, and neutrality comprise a valid “credibility yardstick” in both print and digital media that allows people to “make informed choices and engage in a robust national conversation.”

“In today’s mass media environment it is critical that students are taught to analyze news coverage,” OIF Director Barbara Jones told American Libraries. “Through the support of libraries as a trusted information resource, students will be encouraged to practice news literacy by engaging with the media in their communities. During the grant’s second year in 2013 these students will extend what they learned to engage their entire community in discussing the news environment in the US. Libraries remain a key community location for this to take place.”

Sue Thotz of Common Sense Media in San Francisco discussed the information toolkits her group offers to K–12 students on such 21st-century skills as digital literacy, the difference between personal (okay to share) and private information (dangerous to share), and how to distinguish between real and digitally altered photos.

Brenda Butler described her work with Columbia Links, a journalism skills–building and leadership-development program for students in Chicago Public Schools. Sponsored by Columbia College, the program encourages civic engagement and critical thinking through “reporting academies” that teach the basics of journalism, ethics, interviewing, research, and multimedia production. The Summer 2012 student team wrote and produced a white paper on Chicago gang violence titled Don’t Shoot: I Want to Grow Up.

Free Spirit Media in Chicago offers training in video production every year to as many as 500 underserved students, who go on to produce some 950 videos. The group’s Jeff McCarter said that 95% of the students who go through the program graduate from high school and about 84% go on to college. He said that FSM has been active since 2000 and has helped hundreds of youth “become productive, independent, and engaged adults.”

Jorge Valdivia said that Radio Arte on Chicago’s west side trains Latino and other high school students and older youth in writing, media production, and multimedia storytelling. The training includes workshops, participation in live on-air public affairs programs, and individual projects focused on community media.

Vicki King detailed the work of Journey World, a programming space developed by the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana that offers workshops on ecosystems, sustainability, and money management, as well as news literacy. King said that the facility “partners with four schools every year to host students in grades 4–8” in workshops where they learn how to write, print, and publish a newspaper, or how to film, produce, and direct their own morning news programs.

The Robert R. McCormick Foundation in Chicago has made news literacy a priority goal in recent years and currently supplies 23 organizations in the city with funds for programming.