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A Great Responsibility: News Literacy in the Digital Age

See the original post on Beyond Bylines.

Reading news online sometimes feels like stepping into a house of mirrors. It's easy to fall for something you thought was real, only to end up walking right into a wall.

In fact, according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, 63 percent of people in the U.S. have trouble telling the difference between real and fake news.

“We need to train people to be much more critical consumers of information than they currently are,” said Marty Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, during the 19th International Symposium on Online Journalism in April.

Fostering higher levels of news literacy is one way to do that, he suggests.

What is news literacy and why do we need it?

According to the News Literacy Project, news literacy is the ability to critically evaluate the reliability and credibility of the news – wherever it may come from.

Being news literate means that readers must take an active role in news consumption.

They must double check facts, think about the source of the news, and consider the biases of the author.

More than just a tool to help readers become better informed citizens, some suggest news literacy programs also could help journalists.

"The sheer volume of information descending each day like a tsunami has made it hard for news consumers to even identify journalism in a flood of propaganda, promotion, misinformation and unsupported assertion masquerading as fact," writes Howard Schneider, dean of the journalism school at Stony Brook University.

When readers are unable to separate real news from fake, their trust in journalism and journalists themselves weakens.

Schneider notes that news literacy could help bridge that "trust gap" between readers and journalists by placing some responsibility on readers, society, and the technology used to circulate news.

Some things to consider

News literacy programs and initiatives have been on the rise in recent years -- many have been created to educate young people.

Last year, Google launched a news literacy program for kids, and co-created a curriculum that teachers could implement in their classrooms.

MediaWise by Poynter developed a digital news literacy initiative to  help students in middle and high school "be smarter consumers of news and information online."

At the university level, there are programs like the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University, implemented to teach news literacy to students from all different academic disciplines.

Overall though, fostering higher levels of news literacy has the potential to have great impact. It's important to think carefully about what news literacy should look like, and why we need it.

While teaching news literacy helps promote a healthy dose of skepticism in what we see online, some caution that it could strain the already weakened trust in the media.

But as Stony Brook's Schneider suggests, the problem of misinformation and "fake news" is not for journalists alone to fix. Consumers of the news must learn how to critically evaluate it.

"Just as the Gutenberg revolution more than half a millennium ago spurred a worldwide demand for literacy," he writes. " ... the digital age requires a new literacy for the 21st century: the ability not to just read, but to interrogate news and information."                 

About Jennifer Flynn

Jennifer (Davids) Flynn is a customer content specialist at PR Newswire. By day, she reads releases and advises clients on content best practices. By night (and weekends) she spends most of her time reading fiction and hanging out with her puppy.

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