It’s All Journalism: In era of fake news, it’s time to promote news literacy

Reporters are told to check their facts and verify their sources. Why shouldn’t news consumers do the same?

Peter Adams, the senior vice president for education programs at The News Literacy Project, says the sheer volume of information generated every day makes it difficult for anyone, even journalists, to stay on top of what’s factual, what’s real and what’s being presented by a group with an agenda or trying to spread misinformation.

“I think consuming and creating and engaging with information today is a much more common action than ever before,” Adams said. “It is the most foundational civic action anyone can take. Without understanding what you can trust, we’re limited to our lived experience and what we can witness, which is disempowering and limiting.”

The News Literacy Project provides resources and tools to educators to help students “effectively make their way through today’s information ecosystem,” including how to understand where information comes from, how it is presented and where there are opportunities to find and obtain credible information.

While it’s exciting that there are more outlets for information today than ever before, there are challenges with those opportunities. Roughly 1 billion updates are posted to Facebook daily – “if you’re just trying to take a glance at that billion of posts, you’d be at it for 32 years nonstop, and that doesn’t include the 72 hours of YouTube videos uploaded every minute,” he said. “There’s a staggering amount of information being produced in an environment that’s more complex than ever before.”

The News Literacy Project was designed with secondary school students in mind. But in talking to educators, the non-profit is finding its tools are being used with students as young as fifth and sixth grade all the way up through freshmen and sophomores in college.

The most important lesson for students and adults alike: “People have to be aware that partisans and pundits seek to exploit our biases. We all have a habit of leaning into the information we want to believe and leaning away from or working to dismiss as incompatible (information that doesn’t reaffirm) our existing beliefs. That’s human nature.”

If something strikes a chord and a reader really wants to believe the information is true but it seems too good, it’s time to take a step back and ask some core questions.

“Who created this? Does this organization have standards? Do they aspire to a set of standards designed to help ensure credibility and accuracy? Do they correct mistakes?” Adams said. He added that newspapers and other publications could do a better job of not only correcting their mistakes but explaining how those mistakes made it to publication in the first place, as that will help readers understand both the process and its shortcomings.

Peter Adams, senior vice president for education programs at The News Literacy Project, joins producer Michael O’Connell to discuss the tools educators and news consumers alike can use to distinguish credible news and reliable sources from those playing on emotion and playing to bias for clicks.

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