Monday, April 2, 2012

Why News Matters: Sailing

Monday, April 02, 2012

Ever since we started to move our attention toward the audience and issues of information credibility, we’ve been astounded at how momentum is growing for what we and others are calling News Literacy.

Examples of news literacy ‘teaching moments’ seem to be coming at us in a flurry. From the Kony 2012 video to the Mike Daisey “This American Life” piece and retraction, as well as the purportedly leaked documents from the Heartland Institute, compelling examples abound. Each new instance raises – in very different ways – issues of credibility, bias, the difference between spin and high-quality reporting – and how to distinguish between the two.

But there’s more: We’re seeing and hearing testimony from a lot of people that they are as concerned as we are, and want to play a role in moving things in the right direction. At this point, in this nascent field, we’ve got more questions than answers: What are the most compelling ways for credible news and information to come alive for young people?  Can the isolation of growing old in a big city be mitigated through the potential of digital information literacy to connect people? Can the young produce reporting that speaks beyond their peers and has meaning for all of us? How can news organizations use their platform to engage readers in dialogue and educate them about the mysteries of reporting? And as Richard Rodriguez explored in his Harper’s magazine essay two years ago: Who plays the role of helping to shape the identity of today’s cities? And is there a role for those engaged in workforce development, adult literacy, technology, the arts and other areas?

Here are just a few examples of ways that we see news literacy as being tremendously relevant:

·      Knowledge is Power: The website from ClearHealthCosts includes an interactive map based on Medicare data for actual pay for hospital stays. Helps people see the different costs of the same procedure in the same city. Simple and revolutionary.
·      Open-Door Policy: University publications like Madison Commons in Wisconsin are doing a compelling job of explaining their role and inviting readers to become engaged. The header on their homepage says it all: Who we are, What we do, What you can do, Talk, Tag cloud and Multimedia. Applause.
·      YLCM: In a conversation with New America Media’s Jacob Simas and Raj Jayadev, we noticed they’ve dropped the term youth media and now talk about ‘youth-led community media.’ Young people aged 14 and into their twenties are playing a role in reporting on community issues. We see this same commitment to quality in other places: Witness Free Spirit Media’s 10-minute documentary on food deserts in North Lawndale.
·      The Event: When young people learn to report, their journalism becomes a springboard for deeper civic engagement. A great example is the “What’s hitting teens harder than adults?” townhall organized by Columbia LINKS, where high school reporters launched a special edition R-Wurd magazine at an event featuring experts and elected officials. See the issue here. It includes a cover story “Not Hiring: The plight of jobless teens,” as well as a piece on hoodies as fashion. How timely.
·      Creative Story Telling: Young journalists in particular are experimenting with creative ways to connect with audiences. An example is the DC-based Pulitzer Center, which sent a photojournalist and a poet to cover Haiti post-earthquake. Erin Polgreen sent us this link to coverage of refugees in Damascus, in cartoon format.
·      An Editor’s Tough Love: Julia Lieblich, author of “Wounded I Am More Awake,” which tells the story of a doctor who survived six Bosnian concentration camps, just penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times. In it she lays out how after three years of interviews for her book, her editor told her to go and confirm the facts. So she went, as she says, to ‘fact-check horror.’ She lays out how this ultimately led to richer work.
·      The Impact of Games: And back to kids. Students at the Reavis School on Chicago’s South Side – in a News Literacy Project program – produced an audio report on the impact of video games on their lives. It’s simply great work. The story is here.

So many challenges and so many questions. But at least it seems there’s momentum on our side. Nice to have a little wind in your sails.
--Mark Hallett, senior program officer


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