By Alan C. Miller
Knowing what news and information to trust is a daunting challenge for students faced with a tsunami of text, images and video of varying credibility, accountability and transparency in today’s hyperkinetic information ecosystem.
Younger students have a propensity to trust what they see: After all, it wouldn’t be on the internet if it wasn’t true. By the time students reach high school, they are often far more cynical — believing that everything they read, see or hear is driven by personal, commercial or political bias or agenda.
I founded the News Literacy Project eight years ago to teach middle school and high school students that all information is, in fact, not created equal. We work with educators and journalists to teach young people how to know what to believe — giving them the critical thinking skills they need to discern credible information from opinion, spin, advertising and propaganda, and to become informed, engaged participants in our democracy.
In May, we launched our innovative checkology™ virtual classroom, the culmination of all our classroom and digital programs and our primary path to national scale. As we strive to embed news literacy in the American educational experience, we are excited that with the support of Knight Foundation, we will be expanding the platform’s reach to at least five Knight communities during the 2016-17 school year.
The virtual classroom, which is already being used in 34 states to reach thousands of students, represents an opportunity to bring news literacy to an exponentially larger number of students nationwide. With Knight’s support, the News Literacy Project will focus primarily on underserved communities in these five Knight cities: Charlotte, North Carolina; Detroit; Lexington, Kentucky; Miami; and Philadelphia. The News Literacy Project aspires to extend the platform’s reach to at least 100,000 students in all 50 states by the end of 2017.
The checkology™ virtual classroom features a diverse group of prominent journalists and other experts who lead highly interactive lessons on such topics as discerning the credibility of information, assessing viral rumors, analyzing bias and understanding the role of algorithms. Other lessons focus on the importance of the First Amendment and the watchdog role of a free press.
Since 2009, when we began our classroom programs with support from Knight Foundation, our quantitative and qualitative assessment data have shown that students who complete our units become more frequent consumers of news; establish increased respect for the First Amendment and the press’s role in a democracy; and gain greater confidence in their ability to consume and create credible information.
At a time when faith in the news media has hit new lows — a Gallup survey sponsored by Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute found that 55 percent of college students have little or no trust in the press to report the news accurately and fairly — we value the opportunity to rejoin forces with Knight to create a news-literate next generation.
Together, we believe that we will have a dramatic impact on education, the future of quality journalism and the health of the nation’s democracy.
Alan C. Miller is president and founder of the News Literacy Project, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning former investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Follow him on Twitter @alancmiller0926.