Category Archives: News Literacy

News Literacy Skill Building

As with any learning goal, working towards becoming news literate is a self-propelled process that takes commitment and vigilance.  Plotting out a strategy or to-do list can be a helpful guide to move through the layers of understanding.

Before you embark on this journey, however, understand that becoming news literate isn’t a simple skill that can be applied absent mindedly, like learning how to ride a bike or make a grilled cheese sandwich. Going though the process of becoming news literate will involve first facing the fact that, most likely, there will be a process of unlearning. Given how polarized Americans are, there is a good chance that some of the beliefs you espouse are biased.  And that is okay. We all have been influenced in one way or the other over the last decade or so. Just know that while working to be news literate, you may have to face your own bias. Be ready.

Now that you know what you are going to face, how do you create a learning strategy to master news literacy? Well to start off, you need to know where you are to understand where you have to go. The first step would be to assess your current level of news literacy.

STEP 1: What is my current news literacy skill level?

When it comes to learning anything new, any teacher, tutor or coach will want to assess a new student’s baseline. They have to understand where the student’s current skill level lies in order to come up with a learning strategy.  You will have to do this for yourself. Luckily,  there is a neat online tool to test your current news literacy level. Take this quiz prepared by The News Literacy Project. It is a 12 question quiz that focuses on what reports and photo journalists are allowed to do, their sources, how to spot ads and other aspects of understanding digital information. Once you have your results the quiz will help you identify in what areas of interpreting digital information you can use assistance.

STEP 2: Where can I obtain more information?

Now that you understand where you are, it will be easier for you to know in which direction your self study needs to go. The good news is, many universities and non partisan organizations are working to fight fake and biased news and provide a plethora of information to review. Some of those organizations are outlined in a previous blog post Basic News Literacy to Combat Fake News.  For the most part, each source provides steps to take when confronted with a information that seems outrageous or questionable.

The site on which you took the original news literacy quiz is another great resource: newslit.org.  They have great articles, other quizzes, news and statistics for those learning news literacy skills.  Also, be sure to sign up for their news letter, The Sift for current examples of fake, biased or misinformation. The news letter is a great way to stay up to date on the latest falsehoods sweeping the nation.

STEP 3: Classes

If you have come this far in your journey, and still want to continue, taking a class may be a good idea for you.  Coursera.org offers a course that is developed and taught by professors from State University of New York and the University of Hong Kong.  This is a 13 hour, six week course that dives into such topics as “Where can we find trustworthy information?” and “How to apply news literacy concepts in real life?”

The course can be found here: https://www.coursera.org/learn/news-literacy

You are able to either audit the course for free, or pay for the course in order to earn the certificate, and have your assignments graded by professors, etc.

Some other online learning options include the linked resources below:

Journalism School

Digital Resource Center

STEP 4: Apply

Now that you have gathered all the tools and knowledge available at this time, it is time to apply what you have learned.  To be accurate, application should be attempted after each news literacy lesson. Seek and Find.

This, quite frankly, can be the exhausting part at first until it becomes second nature. However, if you are committed to training your brain to strain the opinions, falsehoods and bias from the information you consume, it is necessary.

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Basic News Literacy to Combat Fake News

The phrase “fake news” has entered American lingo with the same force as the person who proliferated it took over the Republican party in 2016. Google Trends shows that the term had an exaggerated spike in search frequency starting in October 2016 with the peak of the search term occurring in February 2017. While the frequency has never reached the climax it did in February 2017, the search frequency is still significantly more elevated since 45 began his campaign for the presidency than anytime before that.

The increased search frequency of fake news online appears to play out in reality as well. It seems that when people of different ideologies have a disagreement, evidence presented by one party will be called “fake news” by the disagreeing party.  Or more commonly, people will label statements as “fake news” if they personally don’t agree with the statement, regardless of the facts surrounding what was said.

The phrase has been referred to as a phenomenon. It has been studied by MIT, the results of which were published in Science magazine and reported in The Atlantic. It has prompted leading universities such as Penn State, University of Michigan, University of California – Santa Barbara and even Harvard University to either post an article or dedicate several pages of their websites to defining, understanding and, basically, fighting against the spread of fake news. Even news distributors such as Huff Post and Fox News have either dedicated pages or aired segments of their website to “Fake News.”

What impact does this have on society? The proliferation of the dissemination of false and misleading information begets the requirement of being news literate. Being able to discern between biased and flagrantly incorrect data is the key to accurately understanding the world around us and the events that take place within it. The following steps will help begin the journey towards news literacy.

    • The first step is to understand what defines fake news. The University of Michigan provides a thorough definition. Essentially, its complicated and the linked guide categorizes 7 types of misinformation. Review the characteristics of each type and actively look to find them in your online travels.
    • Get your emotions in check. Remember that articles are purposefully crafted to evoke an emotional response to throw off the reader’s logical thinking. Many times, the inflammatory title has little to do with the story. Let your emotions flair, then let them go and look for the facts.
    • Ask questions! Almost any credible fake news guide available will undoubtedly advise to ask questions. This fake news guide from Harvard University provides some excellent questions to start asking when reading online content.
    • Seek independent unbiased news sources. Tall order. I know. But there are some out there:
      • First and foremost is the trusted C-SPAN.  It broadcasts live from the floors of Congress.  A great activity is to actually watch what happens in government and C-SPAN and then watch how the media reports on it.
      • Another independent news source, though it focuses on news local to NJ, is NJ Spotlight. This news service provides daily coverage of events in Trenton in a way that doesn’t focus on the partisan aspect of politics, but instead the facts. Very refreshing. They also host round tables and panels with local officials and moderate political debates.
      • NPR can be trusted for producing high quality content. They are an independent and non profit media company that provides written articles, radio programs, podcasts and live events.
      • Reuters proclaims on its about page to operate on the principals of independence, integrity and freedom of bias. This is an excellent source to search a particular topic after reading an inflammatory article.
    • Sometimes, not sharing is caring. One basic rule of thumb, which we have all broken at least once or twice in our lives, is do not share anything out of outrage or anger.  It’s okay to be outraged; its okay to feel anger. However, as mentioned previously, some articles are designed to make you angry. Its important to do due diligence prior to sharing the possible fake news content.

Being prepared to deal with the onslaught of content, information and opinions people face each day requires a skill that can be easily acquired if one gives a concerted effort. Try to consciously practice one technique at a time until it becomes second nature.

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“Who Decides the News?” and Why it is Important for Readers to Understand This

Tragic news about the site moderator.

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