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The News Literacy Project Kicks Off Today in Bethesda, Md., with Mark Halperin and Pierre Thomas

The News Literacy Project, an innovative national program that is bringing journalists into classrooms to help students learn to sort fact from fiction in the digital age, launches its pilot project at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md., today with an event featuring Mark Halperin of Time magazine and Pierre Thomas of ABC News.

The event is at 10 am. Three teachers will introduce the project’s curriculum in 10 Advanced Placement government classes on Feb. 27.  Journalists will make their initial presentations in these classes next week.

The New York Times, ABC News, USA Today, CNN and the CBS News program “60 Minutes” have enlisted with the project as participating news organizations. Reporters, editors, producers and correspondents from each organization are among more than 75 prominent journalists, including winners of print and broadcast journalism’s most prestigious awards, who have volunteered to serve as fellows. They are listed in the project’s online directory at www.thenewsliteracyproject.org.

The journalists will help give students the tools to appreciate the value of quality news coverage and to encourage them to consume and create credible information across all media. Students will learn how to distinguish verified information from unfiltered messages, opinion, advertising and propaganda — whether they are using search engines to find websites on a particular topic, assessing a viral e-mail, watching television news or reading a newspaper.

The project is forging partnerships between active and retired journalists and social studies, government and English teachers. It is focusing on the importance of news to young people, the role of the First Amendment and a free media in a democracy and the tools needed to discern reliable information. The project has developed original curriculum materials based on engaging activities and student projects that will build and reflect understanding and critical thinking skills.

The project launched its first pilot program earlier this month at Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School, a middle school in Brooklyn, N.Y. It is also working with the Facing History School in Manhattan. The News Literacy Project is spearheaded by Alan C. Miller, a former investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times and winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. The board is chaired by Vivian Schiller, president and chief executive of NPR; John Carroll, former editor of the Los Angeles Times and The Baltimore Sun, is vice chairman. The Poynter Institute for Media Studies is the project’s partner and nonprofit fiscal agent. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation are its two major funders.

Four major national journalism organizations have endorsed the News Literacy Project: the American Society of Newspaper Editors; the National Association of Black Journalists; the Asian American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. Mark Halperin is the editor-at-large and senior political analyst for Time. He covers politics, elections and debates for the magazine and its website, Time.com. He also created and edits “The Page,” a political news and analysis website, and frequently appears on television as a political analyst. He joined Time in 2007 after nearly 20 years at ABC News, including 10 as political director. He is the author of The Undecided Voter’s Guide to the Next President, published in 2007, and co-author of The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008, published in 2006. He graduated from Walt Whitman in 1983.

Pierre Thomas is the senior Justice Department correspondent at ABC News, covering law enforcement, terrorism and homeland security.  He joined the network in 2000 and reports for “World News with Charles Gibson,” “Good Morning America,” “Nightline” and other programs.  He was a key member of a team of correspondents that won Peabody, Alfred I. duPont Columbia University and Emmy awards for coverage of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.  Before joining ABC, he was a Justice Department correspondent for CNN and a reporter at The Washington Post. Both Halperin and Thomas are News Literacy Project fellows.

Among the journalists who will make presentations and engage in activities with students in the government classes at Whitman in the next two weeks are Jeanne Cummings of Politico; Eric Schmitt of the New York Times; Amanda Ripley of Time magazine; Henry Schuster of “60 Minutes;” Tyler Marshall, formerly of the Los Angeles Times; Barbara Slavin of The Washington Times; David Aldridge of TNT Sports, and USA Today’s Peter Eisler, Tom Frank, Kathy Kiely and Andrea Stone.

Walt Whitman is one of the top-ranked public high schools in America, with 15% to 20% of its seniors either receiving Letters of Commendation or being named semi-finalists in the National Merit Scholars program. Its nearly 1,900 students come from more than 40 countries.  Principal Alan Goodwin and his staff and students have contributed to the News Literacy Project’s development during the past year.

“In the midst of an ever-changing, electronically driven information culture, the ability to discern fact from fiction — and to determine the reliability of a range of media, from newspapers to websites — is an increasing challenge,” said Goodwin, a member of the project’s advisory committee. “We are excited about the News Literacy Project because we believe it will teach students to analyze information effectively and determine the reliability of various sources, thus helping them to make informed decisions in their personal and professional lives.”