The News Literacy Project (NLP) is an innovative national educational program that mobilizes seasoned journalists to help middle school and high school students sort fact from fiction in the digital age.
The project teaches students critical-thinking skills that will enable them to be smarter and more frequent consumers and creators of credible information across all media and platforms. It seeks to light a spark of interest in students to seek information that will make them more knowledgeable about their communities, the nation and the world.
The project also aspires to elevate the mission of news literacy nationally through classroom programs, digital media, workshops, public events and the news media itself.
NLP shows students how to distinguish verified information from spin, opinion and misinformation — whether they are using search engines to find websites with information about specific topics, assessing a viral email, viewing a video on YouTube, watching television news or reading a newspaper or a blog post.
Students are being taught to seek news and information that will make them well-informed and engaged students, consumers and citizens. They are also being encouraged to produce news and information accurately, fairly and responsibly to make their own voices as credible and powerful as possible.
You can see NLP in action in a video report created by the project: “How to Know What to Believe”
The “PBS NewsHour” also produced a six-minute report about NLP that aired in December 2011.
The project has created a new model by forging partnerships among active and retired journalists, the project’s local coordinators in New York City, Chicago and the Washington, D.C., area, and English, history, government, humanities and journalism teachers. Journalist fellows and teachers are devising units focusing on the importance of news to young people, the role of the First Amendment and a free media in a democracy, and the best ways to discern reliable information.
Working with educators, students and journalists, NLP has developed original curriculum materials based on engaging activities and student projects that build and reflect understanding of the program’s essential questions. The curriculum includes material on a variety of topics, including viral email, Wikipedia, search engines, YouTube and the news, that is presented through hands-on exercises, games, videos and the journalists’ own compelling stories.
Additional video and broadcast reports that capture the project in action and showcase exemplary student work can be found on the project’s YouTube channel.
Twenty-two news organizations are partnering with NLP. This website features a national directory of volunteer journalists, including their biographies and photographs. The project has about 200 journalists enrolled in its online directory, including broadcast correspondents, authors of best-selling books and winners of journalism’s highest honors. Since 2009, journalist fellows have made more than 400 presentations in classrooms, conferences, workshops and other NLP programs.
The journalists are matched with classes based on the curriculum. For example, a White House or political reporter might do a presentation to a government class, former foreign correspondents might speak to a class focused on international issues, and a feature writer, a columnist or an investigative reporter might talk to an English class. Broadcast journalists work with students creating video or audio reports in after-school programs.
NLP is increasingly using Skype to bring journalists from around the world to its classes across the country. It also devised and delivered its first digital pilot unit in the Chicago Public Schools this past June. The unit retains the voice of journalists through screencasts and a live video webcast. NLP is expanding this effort in Chicago and plans to introduce a digital unit to other regions this school year.
Even as young people increasingly participate in the national conversation through such forms of communication as text messages, blogs, Facebook and Twitter, the concept of news literacy is not widely discussed in America’s public schools. With the 24-hour news cycle and the explosion of online information, today’s students have access to unprecedented amounts of information. Yet they are also confronted with the daunting task of determining the reliability of myriad sources of “news” — and surveys show that they are increasingly uninterested in information with a civic purpose.
The News Literacy Project seeks to reverse these trends. In addition, at a time when negative reports about the news media abound, it presents students and their teachers with positive role models of journalists and insights into how news is reported, edited and produced. But its biggest impact promises to be on the nation’s civic life: When young people are exposed to information that is in the public interest, the country’s democratic grass-roots are strengthened.
“Our goal should be that every American possesses the skills to discern news from infotainment, fact from opinion, and trustworthy information sources from untrustworthy,” said Michael Copps, a former member of the Federal Communications Commission. “Happily, there is good work being done on the literacy front. One example is the News Literacy Project.”
NLP is reaching young people as they are becoming increasingly aware of the news and are developing the habits of mind that can shape consumption patterns for a lifetime. They are doing so at a time when they are confronted with myriad sources of greatly varying credibility. The nation’s education system is not confronting this challenge; the concept of news literacy is not widely discussed in public schools. Moreover, as a Carnegie-Knight task force reported in 2007, mandatory testing has led to a decline in the use of the news in classrooms, squeezing out one of the best ways to prepare students for their role as citizens at a time when it may be more needed than ever.
With today’s explosion of media content, young people are often overwhelmed by information. A June 2012 study of American youth (“Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action,” by Cathy Cohen and Joseph Kahne) found that 84% of respondents say they are bombarded with information and “would benefit from learning more about how to gauge what news is trustworthy.”
A 2008 study by the Pew Research Center found that 34 percent of young adults age 18 to 24 report receiving no news from any source on a typical day. A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8- to 18-year-olds spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day on entertainment media — a 20 percent increase in the past five years. It also found that “use of every type of media has increased over the past 10 years, with the exception of reading” — and reading, of course, includes newspapers and magazines.
In July 2012, Pew reported that, worldwide, “YouTube is becoming a major platform for viewing news.” In 2011 and early 2012, the center found, the most searched term of the month on YouTube was a news-related event five out of 15 months.
At the same time, the report said, “clear ethical standards have not developed on how to attribute the video content moving through the synergistic sharing loop. Even though YouTube offers guidelines on how to attribute content, it’s clear that not everyone follows them, and certain scenarios fall outside those covered by the guidelines. News organizations sometimes post content that was apparently captured by citizen eyewitnesses without any clear attribution as to the original producer. Citizens are posting copyrighted material without permission. And the creator of some material cannot be identified. All this creates the potential for news to be manufactured, or even falsified, without giving audiences much ability to know who produced it or how to verify it.”
The need for young people to develop their own standards for truthful, reliable information is all the more important because today’s students are producers as well as consumers. Whether emailing, texting, interacting on Facebook, posting on YouTube or blogging, they are increasingly part of the national conversation.