News Is Bad For You
Apparently, the more mobile devices you have, the higher your perceived value of media is. According to BCG’s recent study, Through the Mobile Looking Glass, when you get a second mobile device, there is a 41% increase in perceived media value, a 40% increase when you get a third, and a 30% increase when you get a fourth.
Which makes sense, if you’re spending your days juggling four mobile devices and consuming media on all of them. What could be more important than the information nuggets you’re eating all day long?
Hopefully a lot of things, considering that the nutritional value of all the information we’re consuming could be very low.
The Guardian’s Rolf Dobelli explains:
In the past few decades, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking. That’s why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.
Dobelli goes on to provide illustrative examples of the following:
- News misleads.
- News is irrelevant.
- News has no explanatory power.
- News is toxic to your body (literally).
- News increases cognitive errors.
- News inhibits thinking.
- News works like a drug (you begin to crave it).
- News wastes time.
- News kills creativity.
Dobelli wants us to go without news. To be clear, he’s not arguing against ALL journalism. He supports investigative journalism, long-form, and books, but for the last four years has entirely removed the consumption of other (shorter) news from his diet. He’s since experienced: “less disruption, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more time, and more insights.”
FJP: Firstly, journalists simply can’t afford that kind of lifestyle and anyone active on a social network can’t avoid it. And great, illuminating, informative, well-reported, well-presented journalism is out there. But if we set aside the details of his argument (over which we could debate at length), Dobelli’s larger point (that our news consumption habits aren’t very healthy), coupled with the fact that we of the mobile generations perceive the value of media so highly, raises the most important question of all for people living in 2013: How can we construct healthy, anxiety-free, informative, enjoyable news diets that help us live better lives and understand the world better? News literacy. Just like we ought to do with food, practice consuming with balance and intention.—Jihii
CJR's Required Skimming Lists
This month Columbia Journalism Review has been sharing mini-lists of what their staffers read on various topics. Here’s today’s, “the neat-o list,” most of which we read too.
•Alexis Madrigal: A senior editor atThe Atlanticwho writes with playful enthusiasm about innovation, entrepreneurship, and creative uses of technology.
•Atlas Obscura: Brainchild of one of the obnoxiously fabulous Foer Brothers, this site lives up to its billing as a “catalogue of the singular, eccentric, bizarre, fantastical, and strange out-of-the-way places.”
•@brainpicker: A bit thick on inspirational quotes, but Maria Popova also delivers the steadiest stream of “interestingness” anywhere on Twitter.
•Ideas Market: Chris Shea’s excellent handbook of research being done will refashion your head into the shape of a satisfied egg.
•@kottke: One of the longest and best continuously running blogs on the Internet; a source for uplift and delight that rarely disappoints.
•Marginal Revolution: A showcase of the wide-ranging, urbane tastes of economists Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, it’s the go-to blog for polymaths and aspiring James Bond villains.
• @wired: Still the hitchhikers’ guide to the future.
Thomas Patterson, "Out of Order"
Patterson’s Out of Order is like a tonic during the election season. Having been semi-politically-conscious through five election cycles and voting for three, it’s refreshing to read a political scientist of the 80’s and 90’s point out what felt true then and feels equally true since 1992, when the book was published: The press’s cynicism is largely unfounded and apolitical, and politicians for the most part do what they promise to.
One reason I’ve been wary of the so-called “news literacy” programs that come out of the McCormick Foundation is that its “golden age” of journalism is based on the poisoning of the journalistic well that seems to have occurred circa Watergate. Though Patterson admits Watergate as a touchstone, his more persuasive evidence suggests that the real turning point in the relationship between press and politics was the radical shift in the primary process that happened through the McGovern-Fraser Commission in 1968, through which primaries were shifted from party-control to a more public primary voting system that we’re familiar with today.
The result of this shift is that the news media were emboldened to be not only a watchdog of government and national politics, but an active shaper of how political institutions are formed (via primaries and then in elections themselves). Patterson’s key argument is that this is a monstrously inappropriate role for the press, which simply can’t handle the obligation of organizing national political activity:
With its assigned task of creating political coalitions out of the voters’ interests, the press is in a similar situation [as central economic planners under Soviet government]. The media have neither the means nor the incentives to bring these interests together in a coherent fashion. They lack the wherewithal to determine the public’s demand for particular policies on a continuing basis, or to formulate these policies, or to deliver them to the people in a timely and workable way (208-209).
The answer, according to Patterson, is not (as many news literacy folks will argue) to double down on “hard news” reporting or policy analysis. It is to let candidates speak for themselves, without the cynical assumption that they are lying.
I was particularly glad to be reading this book during the “47%” controversy. Here, some light muckraking clarified an argument that has in fact been a central plank of conservative policy since Goldwater. Conservatives want to dismantle the welfare state as envisioned by post-New Deal liberalism. They are transparent about this goal, frequently giving speeches and writing policy designed specifically to do it. Romney merely used a cartoonish exaggeration in a private setting to reiterate the belief that is a central component of Republican efforts to dismantle welfare programs.
That is to say that the “47%” remark should not have been covered as a “surprising gaffe” that Romney should have apologized for — it is a blunt phrasing of what Republicans actually believe. If we take politicians in good faith that they usually say what they mean, in varying degrees of eloquence, there isn’t much “controversy” to be had. We have to accept that Romney is pretty much correct that young people, poor people, and the (poor) elderly are not going to vote for him. The question is how many of a very small pool of low-information voters will vote, and, more importantly how much of either party’s base will vote. (By insisting on “undecided” or “independent,” the press obscures what actually categorizes the “undecided” population; this is part of a strategy to make elections seem far more unpredictable than they are.)
Unfortunately, these facts don’t make news very interesting. But that’s journalism’s cardinal sin — in its attempt to be interesting, it takes on two roles very poorly — that of a political institution and that of a storyteller. The press is terrible at both of these things, yet these have become the primary roles of mainstream journalism. I say good riddance; bring on the explicitly partisan press. The most satisfying legacy of Out of Order for me is a forceful reminder that the internet didn’t kill the press — “journalism” did.
On Soka Education & News Literacy.
Last weekend I presented a paper at the 8th Annual Soka Education Conference held at my alma mater, Soka University of America. You can learn about the conference here. I discussed news literacy & Soka Education, an educational framework developed by the late Japanese educator, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. You can poke around the conference site to learn more.
You can e-mail me for the actual paper (entitled From George Orwell to Media Literacy: Soka Education for Informed Media Consumers), but here is the presentation version & prezi. Happy reading!
*Note: conversations are fictionalized, quotes are real but based on writings, not meetings.
A Man Named George.
I have been 22 years old for a very long time.
The events that allow me to perpetually own this age
begin on a rainy British afternoon in 1946,
when I had tea with a man named George.
You might also know him as Orwell.
He was a writer, journalist, and generally brilliant man who loved rules
and always had some to offer.
In fact, that evening, he spent a good ten minutes lecturing me on how to take my tea.
It was my fault really.
I tried to put sugar in it.
“How can you call yourself a true tealover,” he said, “if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter.”
A few days after this he had an article published in the Evening Standard
on how to make a nice cup of tea.
That said, you can image how strict he might be about writing.
George and I had a long discussion on language.
“Political speech and writing,” he told me
“are largely the defense of the indefensible.”
I didn’t understand.
“Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan…can be defended only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face.”
“Thus,” he went on,
“political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness…it is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.”
I was dumbfounded.
“But why, George?” I asked,
“How do you mean?”
He gave me some examples.
“Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets,” he said.
“This is called pacification.”
“Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry,” he said.
My heart felt heavy.
“This is called rectification of frontiers.”
“People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck, or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps,” he said.
I choked back my tea, and tears.
“This is called elimination of unreliable elements.”
“But George, this is terrible!” I cried.
“Such phraseology is needed,” he explained, “if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”
It was true.
Our conversation wasn’t entirely depressing, though.
George Orwell explained to me that sure, language reflects existing social values.
But changing how we choose to use language, how we construct our sentences,
can also slow the decay of social conditions, and maybe even reverse it.
He then, of course, went on to prescribe a set of rules for the English language.
It was all later recorded into a wonderful essay,
called Politics & the English Language.
You might like to read it sometime.
In 1950 George passed away.
What he left me with was a large, growing sense of curiosity about the impact of language,
embedded with small, stubborn bits of hope on how we might use it best.
I’ve remained on the look-out for blindness
blindness to the visceral actualities of current affairs
and the incomprehensible forms of language that sustain it.
This brings us to today.
I’ve a struggled a bit, to be honest,
to contemporize George’s critique of political language.
I spent a few decades thinking I might have it down,
walking the streets of New York,
preaching his rules to every friend I’d make:
Tell it like it is, I’d say.
Never use a long word where a short one will do, I’d say.
And I’d go home in the evening when the chatter of the day had quieted,
I’d put off my television set and and take my tea without sugar and sleep soundly.
Then the 90s hit, and the 2000’s.
The chatter of the day suddenly, wouldn’t end.
No it would get louder and louder, louder even today,
and my TV box would turn on without my doing
and my pockets would beep and buzz
and it seems every time I answer the phone
there’s a headline mixed up with my phonebook
telling me about a war across the ocean,
a new invention which looks exactly like the one before it,
and battles that can be fought through video games.
And suddenly it seems oil has turned to magic,
as it can make cars run, french fries taste good, men lie, and children die, all at the same time.
Now when I wake up in the morning
and go out into the street
I’m dizzy and fatigued, and I have more grey hairs,
and once in a while I even wish
I could just read a nice paper bundle of political lies wrapped up neat and tidy,
delivered to my doorstep once a day.
I wish I still knew how to identify blindness and the lies that protect it,
but it seems everything is blinding all the time these days.
I wish George and I could have a cup of tea and he could give me another list of rules to preach.
But he can’t.
So I’ve switched to coffee now,
and I’ve met with some nice people who love George as much as I do,
and we’ve concluded that it really is grim out there, and cloudy.
George was, right, wasn’t he?
It is easier to turn a blind eye, to embrace powerlessness, and to condemn politics
than it is to accept what drives war, greed, scandal, injustice and violence.
Be it through political language, or digital swimming pools,
sometimes it’s nice to not know
because when you don’t know, you don’t have to care.
So, I’ve finally contemporized George’s critique. Here’s my go at it:
The ambiguous political rhetoric of 1946 allowed decision-makers and ordinary citizens to live with their conscience intact, despite deteriorating political and social values. Orwell exposed a sort of convenient “illiteracy” of the time.
In 2012, we too suffer from an inundation by language, though it’s not just political. Let’s call it media illiteracy: a reduced state of consciousness due to the overwhelming amounts of information & reporting (relevant or not) that we consume.
Luckily, George embedded my awareness with hope,
and I think this is where we make a new set of rules.
I began thinking, and watching, and reading and meeting news consumers,
feeling the weight of an unperceived illiteracy
alive still today
and yet unnameable.
And then through the beeping and buzzing and primetime fussing
about presidential incapabilities
I penned it down.
What leads to this new illiteracy, this news illiteracy?
1. News we don’t realize we consume
through billboards and graphics and headlines and broadcasts,
on every street corner, multiplying at the same rate my heart beats,
faster still, when i try to run from it.
2. Networked cable news, partisan, profit-powered, 85% male, 92% white,
and did you know that just this month,
62% percent of guests invited to comment on contraception, were men?
3. Trusting sources. Hyperlocal blogs, indie publications, citizen journalists
comprise this new networked public sphere, but are their agendas, facts verifiable?, business models sustainable?
The list does go on and it went on in my head and on paper,
until another rainy afternoon,
in 2011, when I had coffee with a man named Dean.
He works at Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy.
He became my new George in a way,
and we had a long conversation on language,
and ways and the why in which we could remedy how we receive it.
He is a teacher seeking to alleviate illiteracy
through classroom exercises
and streetside improvising:
don’t consume any news at all for 48 hours
“Different eyes, Different ears”-
for 48 hours adopt the news consumption habits of a classmate
don’t judge them.
We discussed tools, tips, trades and trends,
alternative digests, curated by thinking minds with lots of time
so you could collect the best from the rest.
We discussed how to check facts like a journalist
and news diets
and how to trim intellectual belly fat
and Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter
Feedly and Fuego,
subscriptions to social reading
and finding facts without meaning.
Dean told me, demonstrates a method of active and reasoned examination of received truths and wisdom that is missing in much of undergraduate education.”
Consider this, he told me.
“In one class, students watch a Jon Stewart critique of a Fox News story that uses sexually charged clips of bikini-clad students on spring break as the eyewash for a story on a serial prostitute killer running loose in Daytona Beach.”
“By questioning the connection between dead prostitutes (the spoken narrative)
and partying spring breakers (the visual narrative), they learn the difference between truth grounded in fact and Colbertian ‘truthiness’ grounded in the artifice and fabrication of news coverage.”
We went through many exercises that day,
about wikileaks cables and what it might feel like to be a diplomat in the country from which a cable was leaked.
About challenging American minds on what they believe, to learn what we don’t know.
I thanked Dean that evening and went about my night,
thinking, what other components might there be to our distaste for that which is different or uncomfortable?
And the very next morning I had a chat with a man named Ted (Koppel)
who gently and smilingly reminded me,
“We now feel entitled not to have the news that we need but the news that we want. We want to listen to news that comes from those who already sympathize with our particular point of view. We don’t want facts anymore.”
I remembered George for a moment,
and the convenience of ambiguous language.
Then I thought,
where else might I take my questions?
That brings us to this very moment,
and everything we have discussed in these last 48 hours
about studying and living and learning as complete human beings,
who perceive their interconnectedness,
and do not deny difference,
but cultivate compassion and imaginative empathy
for those suffering in distant places.
You can imagine what comes next.
Time traveling and tea, with Makiguchi,
who gave me a good bit of advice.
“Let us consider,” he said,
“the possibility of establishing a science of evaluation to provide us with the standards by which to weigh and set values, just as the conceptual framework of logic already offers us rules by which to recognize truth.”
The parts of my brain in which I held onto my conversations with George and Dean burst into light and color.
Makiguchi went on.
“The cognition of truth is a yes-no proposition: This is true, and that is false, with no middle ground for passing judgment.”
“On the other hand, the determination of value is entirely relative: This seems appropriate, and that inappropriate.”
I thought of the bikini-clad spring breakers.
“Feelings are the province of evaluating how we as subjects of our own emotional universe interact with things,” he explained.
I thought about it.
The fact is, in consuming news, we do evaluate information as subjects of our own emotional universe.
That’s why it’s difficult to accept particular viewpoints
And that’s how we decide what news to watch,
in what quantity,
on what device.
“I look at the world today,” said Makiguchi, “and find nothing so insidious as this confusion between truth and value, cognition and evaluation. Mixing the two constricts actual understanding and prevents people from assuming an attitude of clarity and responsibility toward their chosen positions.”
My mind wandered to a youtube video I’d seen not too long ago
of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s death.
It was gruesome yet I’d barely blinked at it.
What allowed me to ignore moral discomfort at publicly viewing his death?
Someone else’s value I’d accepted that he was a bad man and deserved it?
Makiguchi seemd to peer into my head.
“There are people who side with someone solely on the basis of reputation,” he said, “without actually seeing or listening or getting to know that person for themselves.”
“Oh I see this all the time,” I replied.
“This can prove to be the source of numerous social weaknesses. Citizens who will not even give an opening to understanding unless they already favor a particular view will mindlessly believe every word uttered by some respected figure, whether what that person says is true or not.”
Suddenly, it clicked.
I ignored moral discomfort on a daily basis when viewing the news.
Mainly because I knew I was powerless,
and apathy was somewhat of an expert coping strategy.
The Orwell in my mind, smiled at that moment, I’m sure of it.
I thought of Dean’s news literacy classroom and exercises,
of the networked public sphere,
of media nutrition and trimming belly fat
and realized, perhaps, news consumption could actually be supplemented
by a exercise regimen
in which i could practice distinguishing between cognition and evaluation
on a daily basis,
fill my plate up with conflicting opinions
identify my biases
and not only trim belly fat
but gain a little bit of moral endurance.
Perhaps Soka Education could offer to news literacy the very thing that it struggled to address:
critical thinking exercises that helped readers identify their biases and place their own judgment on fact.
When you gain something new,
how does it relate to what you already know, feel, believe?
held the very unique space for adults to actually be life-long learners.
I thanked Makiguchi,
walked myself home and stopped at a bookshop
to purchase a notebook and pen.
My phone beeped and buzzed
but I ignored it for the moment
to make a list of rules
for the consumption of language.
I’m not entirely sure what they will be
but I am sure this is where we’ll have to work together
I can make you an expert
cup of tea (or coffee) on a rainy afternoon.
So I hope the conversations will continue.
© 2012 Jihii Jolly
The basic idea of critical autonomy (as I understand it) is that one holds oneself to consistent criteria for evaluation of traits like credibility, accuracy, point of view, etc. — the basic features of most informational texts — as well as understanding (or, when necessary, seeking understanding) of the “how and why”/constructedness of all forms of media, from the most personal/amateur (a YouTube video or an email from a friend, say) to the most professional (a Hollywood blockbuster or fashion magazine).
A “critically autonomous person” can either answer questions about a given thing or at least tell you how one would reasonably find those answers; this person would also know what kinds of questions to ask about the thing. So the critically autonomous person watching a newscast understands the nuts and bolts of its construction, a variety of context for its presentation, and ways of finding out more information to triangulate the source. The critically autonomous person watching a film knows something about film production and film financing, and knows something about genre, and knows something about values embedded in the representation of subjects on the screen.
So far so good (and so far, so what?). But critical autonomy, despite its name, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. That means that any number of other factors seemingly indirectly related to “hypothetical person X making meaning of hypothetical thing Y” may have some impact on how that person defines credibility, quality, etc. When we see a news story that confirms our beliefs, or is presented in a “shell” that has previously confirmed our beliefs (the New York Times, say), we may not be as inclined to question it. This holds true not only for the hypothetical dupe who needs to be “made critical,” but also for the person who, in the majority of other circumstances, would be critical but for specific reasons is less so in a particular instance.
One lens through which to think about critical autonomy is the feelings of pleasure we take in having our beliefs confirmed or having something in which we do not believe disproved (or merely set within some negative context). One fascinating study on Schadenfreude — taking pleasure in one’s misfortune or suffering (the distinction between misfortune and suffering is one John Portmann makes much of in his book When Bad Things Happen to Other People, the source of my thoughts on critical autonomy) — suggests that political affiliation and the strength of that affiliation is strongly correlated to the amount of Schadenfreude one claims to feel in both trivially negative (as in a gaffe) or tragically negative (as in a disaster or death) events in the course of political campaigns.
This makes a certain sense, and the authors of that study are quick to qualify that perhaps the Schadenfreude taken in a negative event is tied to participants’ sense of justice, the sense that a bad thing may make way for a better world in the future.
I’m more interested in the kinds of casual affiliations that resemble more closely social group formations in school settings, and throughout adolescence (and probably into adulthood), not only because I work with adolescent and post-adolescent students, but because I think that generally in these kinds of studies researchers tend to overstate the intentionality and sense of righteousness with which people who feel Schadenfreude can rationalize their feelings.
Take Paris Hilton’s 2007 incarceration for a driving violation for example. In that case, Hilton, who was the subject of several DUI’s before being sentenced to jail for one month on a violation of her probation (she drove when she wasn’t supposed to), was widely met with public Schadenfreude at the symbolic incarceration.
At the time, I was disgusted by this behavior, particularly among people who claimed to be on the side of social justice. Incarceration for minor violations after more major offenses is one reason why non-Paris-Hilton individuals are over-incarcerated in the United States. To celebrate Hilton’s downfall is to thoughtlessly support a justice system that does not work in the interests of its society. That is, by sneering at Paris Hilton, the social-justice-minded individual temporarily suspends her “critical autonomy” in a single situation that can never again hold for any individual who is not Paris Hilton. One cannot simultaneously believe that the justice system over-incarcerates people for minor offenses and also be “glad” that it “finally” screwed over someone many people happen not to like. If the system is broken, it’s broken for everyone.
If we were to believe, in any given scenario, that our participation in group behavior was inherently suspect, and was to be questioned more carefully than when we seemed to be exhibiting individual critical autonomy, this would likely have an impact on the expression of our emotions, if not the actual feeling of them.
I’ll provide an example from one of my own lapses in judgment. When Jason Russell, director of the KONY2012 video, was arrested for public nudity and alleged masturbation, my first reaction was mean-spirited glee. I found the Kony film problematic, and some part of me wanted to share this gut reaction, a Nelson Muntz “Haw haw,” with the world, because of how easy it would be to do so. But I bracketed the feeling, perhaps especially because I saw others indulging in similar snark. I was lucky — in the past my visceral suspicion has led me to share things that I later regretted, as when I shared an (in retrospect) unfair Ginia Bellafante article that painted the Occupy movement protesters as foolish and naive. It turned out, in the case of Russell, that (as I can now imagine more clearly) there are myriad reasons that mocking this misfortune would have been problematic. (How easy is it for me to laugh at someone else acting strangely on the verge of hospitalization? What the hell do I know about this guy or this situation, anyway?)
I think it behooves media literacy educators to hold on to as clear-eyed as possible notions of critical autonomy — a critical autonomy that teaches automatic suspicion of participation at some level. The combination of unexpected events and group affiliation is the foundation for community, togetherness, and other positive values, but it is also the foundation for bigotry, exclusion, and (easy) hatred. That means that we need to be on guard when group affiliations may obscure — or temporarily reverse — a sense of right and wrong. And this sense of skepticism will be different for every person according to his or her group affiliation — that is, Democrats need to be skeptical when contributing within Democratic communities, etc. etc. This does not mean pretending to a neutral knowledge that will necessarily hold true regardless of how we feel; rather, it means investigating counter-claims most intently precisely when they feel most uncomfortable.
For me, for instance, that means admitting how little I actually know about things like global warming, evolution, and other topics that I have expressed strong political beliefs about (and will likely continue to). That isn’t to say that I won’t continue believing these things. But it might temper the strength with which I express them to others, just as people in the Combs study who are only weakly affiliated with Democrats or Republicans show comparable (and relatively weak) levels of Schadenfreude when something bad happens to the other side.
Schools demanding news literacy lessons to teach students how to find fact amid fiction
By Lynh Bui, Washington Post, April 15, 2013
When Ife Adelona saw a picture of singer Selena Gomez as an adult magazine covergirl circulating on Twitter, the 17-year-old knew what she had to do.
“I immediately went for a second source to make sure it wasn’t true,” Ife said.
A quick web search confirmed the Montgomery Blair High School student’s instincts: The photo was a fake.
“Second source” is more a journalist’s jargon than part of a teen’s everyday vocabulary. But with information so readily available via social media, the internet and traditional news sources, educators say news literacy—teaching students how to identify credible information and good journalism—is increasingly important.
News literacy programs are expanding in classrooms across the country, with a growing nonprofit sector dedicated to the cause and new education standards that require students to read and analyze more nonfiction text.
“Younger students might feel that all information is created equally,” said Alan C. Miller, president of the News Literacy Project and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who worked as an investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times. “If something is put on the internet, they tend to believe it.”
Miller’s Maryland-based nonprofit organization develops lesson plans, activities and curriculum for middle and high schools, teaching students to “sort fact from fiction in the digital age.” Students learn to spot bias in stories, discover what makes sources credible and verify information.
“We focus heavily on using the standards of quality journalism to assess the credibility of all news and information,” Miller said.
NBC News national correspondent Tracie Potts has volunteered with the News Literacy Project since 2009. On a recent Thursday, she visited Ife’s media literacy class in Silver Spring.
Being a smart news consumer is akin to being discriminating about other choices in life, she told students: “It’s sort of like going out to eat. You don’t want to stop anywhere along the side of the road. You’re going to scrutinize where your food is coming from.”
Demand to teach that sort of healthy skepticism and critical thinking is on the rise.
When the News Literacy Project first launched in classrooms, it reached about 650 students in Maryland and New York in 2009. Four years later, the project has expanded to Chicago, Virginia and Washington, D.C., and it is expected to reach about 3,800 students by the end of the school year.
Principals and teachers say lessons from news literacy extend beyond teaching students about journalism.
At Walt Whitman High School, where principal Alan Goodwin first hosted News Literacy Program pilot lessons, Goodwin said he sees his students applying what they have learned in the classes—fact checking, research, using multiple sources—as they write papers or make decisions in their everyday lives.
“It helps students understand what they should believe and not believe and what sort of research they should do,” Goodwin said.
As she learns more about news literacy, Ife said she wants other students to understand the importance of thinking twice about what they see and what they hear.
“Sometimes as a student taking in a lot of information, you trust a lot of different sources that you shouldn’t trust,” Ife said. “They can be easily fooled.”
Completely New Consumption Habits
Being a newborn in the world of news is kind of exciting. I’ve abandoned all expectations for what I should know (Like, yes, I’ll admit that I do not read The New Yorker every week. I love it when I read it, but weekly I do not. I also subscribed to the NY Times in print for about 4 months this year. And then on Kindle for 2 months. And then I realized I should just read it online, except on Sundays. If you don’t read the Sunday paper in print, do it, it feels good.)
Anyway, you should try this whole blank and fresh thing. If the HuffPost is your homepage, change it. If you wake up every morning to scrolling through Twitter on your phone, don’t for a day. Do something totally different.
Today, being one of the more rare and delicious slow Saturday mornings I have had in a while, I woke up, and listened to NPR infinite player, which is one of my homepage tabs on Chrome. That was for a long while, but I was only not muliti-tasking during (and therefore paying full attention to) this story about Wisconsin voters. And this moving story about a young Afghan girl.
I try not to sit on the internet on weekends, so it wasn’t until brunch that I got to checking my tabs. I started with Salon, which I’ve only really read due to other people’s re-posts or Tweets in the past. But the homepage is pretty! The black background is refreshing. I sauntered over to weird news first (obviously) and then to some politics.
The rest was headline skimming over at the NY Times and the Atlantic Wire. Saturday is my lightest news day. I did, however, indulge in Google’s Think Quarterly, which is just too lovely to look at. Go do it.
I’ve also committed to not reading online at night and not reading news on the subway anymore (gasp!). It sort of stresses me out. And it’ much nicer to read a novel to clear your head between meetings, or interviews, or classes, or jobs. So on the subway this week I’m reading Sputnik Sweetheart in print. And in the evenings I’m re-reading The Stranger.
Definitely not an overwhelming news day. And Salon, you’ll be staying in my bookmarks for a while.
“Citizens armed with the power of discernment will do more to rescue journalism than any dozen panel of veteran editors ruminating about their golden years in power and musing about better business models.”—Dean Miller, Center for News Literacy at Stonybrook (The Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 14 2010. “Want Better Journalism? Boost News Literacy.”
“Well... are a LOT of things on the Internet lies?”—Query from an 8 year old while babysitting today. I said “Yes.” And then “No.” And then “Well… I don’t know.” What I wanted to say was only another question: How do we navigate this crosshatch of democracy, open access, and the power of the individual intersecting with the greater good and information capital? Small potatoes, really…