Panellists pictured at the top of the page are (from left) Barbara McCormack and Anna Kassinger (Newseum) and World Young Reader Prize winners Joanna Pazio (Poland), Nelson Graves (France), Russell Kahn (USA), Katherine Schulten (USA). All photos by WAN-IFRA
The issue of teaching news literacy to students and adults “is in hyper drive now,” said Katherine Schulten, editor of The New York Times Learning Network, a program that has offered free teaching resources involving the news since 1998.
News literacy is more than just the ability to tell fake stories from real ones. More and more teachers are asking Schulten for resources to help students discern what sources are reliable. “My daily job is to get kids to think critically,” Schulten said.
Newseum Vice President of Education Barbara McCormack led the panel discussion at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., in front of a joint meeting of international journalists who provide news reports for readers under 30 and U.S. teachers who are members of the National Council for Social Studies. Schulten and three other winners of WAN-IFRA's World Young Reader Prize served as panellists, along with Anna Kassinger, curriculum manager for NewseumED.
Panellists and audience members explored issues that have left teachers struggling, such as how to have productive discussions with students about the U.S. presidential election when there has been such an explosion of information sources, many with questionable or no fact checking, and many with polarising viewpoints.
“No more is there a consensus of what to believe,” McCormack said. The NewseumED division, which McCormack heads, provides extensive downloadable resources to help teachers help students talk about divisive subjects.
CLASS DEBATES CAN BE SCARY
Another barrier to news literacy, teachers in the audience said, is the opposition voiced by administrators and parents to discussing such topics as the election in class. That causes teachers to fear having class debates about fake news, such as President-elect Donald Trump’s assertion – without evidence – that millions of people voted illegally.
Classrooms are not the only settings in which discussion of world events is difficult, panellists said. “I have been hearing that many families opted not to have Thanksgiving dinner this year to avoid polarising discussions,” said Russell Kahn, Editor-in-Chief of News-O-Matic, an interactive news service for children. News-O-Matic makes a concerted effort to provide news that children understand and can check. It provides a button for children to be able to find the source of citations in stories. It goes even further and has a child psychologist on staff to vet every story before it’s published and has tips for what a young reader can do if he or she is upset by a story.
TELLING WHERE WE GOT IT
"We cite all our sources and credit the people we’ve interviewed for the articles," Kahn explained in an interview after the panel. "What better way to let kids understand where the news comes from than by providing a transparent system for our texts? Of course, we also encourage our young readers to be junior reporters – sharing reports and reactions from their corner of the globe. But ultimately we want children to critically monitor the trail of information – and not blindly trust the veracity of the written words. That’s been part of our mission from day one."
“Media literacy is important in all aspects of learning,” said Joanna Pazio, with Polska Press in Poland. Her own prize-winning effort, #juniormedia, includes an opportunity for students to learn about news by producing it.
McCormack emphasised the importance of making sure American students understand the five rights in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: freedom of speech, press, assembly, petition and religion. “First Amendment literacy is the foundation of media literacy,” she said.
Nelson Graves, founder of News-Decoder, an online service based in France that also provides webinars and international discussions with experts to help young people understand global news, ended the panel discussion on an optimistic note.
“Dire times equal tremendous opportunities,” Graves, an American, said. When more educators use the U.S. Constitution as a learning tool, he said, readers of all ages will benefit. “We have the potential to bring (the Constitution) into public discourse.’
A KEY STRATEGY: EXPLAINING HOW REAL NEWS WORKS
Other winners at the session were also working to help young people judge all content, even within their own products. Kim Einder, who runs two Dutch weeklies and a news app for young people, said that media literacy is a popular topic in Kidsweek (8-12 year-olds) and 7Days (for teenagers). "We cover it whenever there's reason to (like the results of the Trump/Clinton election)," she said, "and we also participate in the annual Week van de Mediawijsheid (Dutch Media Literacy Week) in November. A few weeks ago, we gave kids/teens tips on how to check if news is trustworthy. One of our editors also gave workshops during a three-day media literacy festival for teens."
However, the daily quest for her is more often more basic. "Mostly, media literacy is something we keep in mind in our day-to-day reporting," she said. "We try to explain to our readers how stories are made, how reliable we think our sources are, how 'scientific' a scientific report is, et cetera. And mostly, we also tell, honestly, what we don't know and what information we don't have. We obviously consider ourselves a reliable source, but after all, we're only humans too."
Gerard van der Weijden of STEPP in Belgium is a World Young Reader Prize juror and world expert on the relationship between young people and the news. He agrees that there is no quick fix in arming young people against fake or misleading content. "For youngsters, being able to spot and deal with fake news is a process and not something to be achieved with a project or activity," he said. "Essential for this process is that youngsters become and are newsreaders in the first place, users of good and bad media, good and bad examples, good and bad news."
In France, the topic of false news arose most recently around conspiracy theories that emerged after the killing of a satirical weekly's cartoonists, and this year's Week of News Media and Information will concentrate on the origin of information. For Caroline Gaertner, a journalist at the children's newspaper Journal des Enfants (JDE), a key resource for such an exploration is the team at "Conspihunters," which shows how rumours can spread by having students do it themselves. For the Week of News Media, set for March 2017, JDE will create a special dossier around false information, aimed at helping understand the origin, life and death of online rumors. "This dossier will be accompanied by a special publication on our website (www.jde.fr)," Gaertner said, enabling young readers, teachers and parents to have tools and answers about how to deal with the multiplication of false information today."
A GLOBAL EFFORT
At an international level, current activity in global digital news literacy and the potential for more actions are huge, said Aralynn McMane of WAN-IFRA after the panel. McMane directs global news literacy and youth engagement work for WAN-IFRA, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers based in Paris.
"For our 16 Centers of Youth Engagement Excellence around the world, this is a natural, as they have been helping teachers help young people use and navigate news and other content for decades now," she said. "And they keep innovating."
In Norway, for example, the MBL Media Startup Society of the national media association, MedieBedriftene, has supported the creation of a "Demand the Source" app that gives the audience the the opportunity to consider and vote on the credibility of what they read. In 2015, the Finnish publishers' association's National News Week focused on the theme "Is It True" with a special guide for examining the details of such practices as Russian trolling to spread misinformation about Ukraine.
In addition, WAN-IFRA itself offers resources for learning to judge what's online. Most recently, it has begun adapting a Newseum resource for using a journalistic approach to all content and even one's own research for school. Next will be a two-pronged new set of resources that offer a pro-active aspect of learning about news itself as one acts like a reporter or editor along with the more defensive tools to ferret out material with questionable sources.
"It's crucial NOT to make this all about fear," McMane said. "There are few more powerful lessons in source verification than giving young people the chance to try doing professional journalism themselves. We have already provided some models for how to do that and are planning even more."
AND WE ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM
"Also, we need to remember that some publishers are part of the problem as they provide advertorial and native advertising content with very, very subtle labeling," she said. "That does little to help young people build the skill of separating wheat from chaff, professional journalism from the rest of it. Worse, it's teaching people not to trust our content." [See this Nieman Lab report on the inability of adults to tell the difference.]
SOME PLACES TO FIND HELP
Since the U.S. presidential election, source verification has garnered new interest with lots of players. In addition to the links mentioned in the story above, here are some other places to find solid resources.
BBC (UK) – The British Broadcasting Company used the U.S. presidential election to explain some telltale signs of fake news. http://www.bbc.com/news/38053324
News Literacy Project (USA) – One section of new checkology™ virtual classroom offers extensive guidance on how to verify sources. A tad dry in the delivery, but very thorough. NPR, U.S. national public radio,
American Press Institute (USA) – API, a WAN-IFRA Center of Youth Engagement Excellence, has a solid background in youth news literacy and also in fact-checking as one of its primary activities to help journalists. It also supports a huge cadre of educators who have partnerships with local news organizations. Most recent resources include a curriculum for teaching news literacy skills in middle school (roughly ages 12-14) and six questions that tell you what media to trust.
First Draft News (Global) – This global coalition brings together "the largest social platforms with global newsrooms, human rights organizations and other fact-checking and verification projects around the world." This link goes to a piece about five things to check in a story.
The European Union's External Action Services (Europe) -- This unit has published a self-help guide on how to counter fake news stories.
Premieres Lignes (France) - This investigative documentary team is creating materials to help students learn to distinguish between real and fake conspiracies. The first video (in French) explores the real conspiracy of information perpetrated by U.S. cigarette producers and the fake conspiracy theories that emerged after the killings of journalists of Charlie Hebdo. [Premieres Lignes' headquarters was on the same floor as the Charlie Hebdo offices. The video is the first step in a partnership with the education ministry's media in education division (CLEMI) to create a complete kit on the topic.]
[Thanks to Gretchen Letterman, a former Tampa Bay Times staffer who became Pinellas County Schools' program coordinator for journalism-based magnet schools upon retirement, who contributed a great deal to this report.]
All photos by WAN-IFRA