Friday, November 2, 2012

McCormick Journalism Program launches News Literacy collaborative

Friday, November 02, 2012

by Ashlei Williams, Robert R. McCormick Communications intern

Got news literacy? On October 24, the McCormick Foundation Journalism Program and Midwest Journalism Education Initiative (MJEI) gathered representatives from 10 secondary education schools and organizations to consider this question. Over the next seven months, the first collaborative news literacy project will be conducted to help student journalists and young news consumers apply critical thinking skills to media.

The foundation recently announced plans for a three-year, $6 million initiative, called “Why News Matters,” to expand innovative approaches to improving news literacy. In the initial round of this three-year program, the foundation will award more than $1 million in grants to 11 organizations to enhance news literacy skills and programs in Chicago.

MJEI works with leading organizations in the identification and development of resources to enhance the practice of journalism and media instruction. MJEI is leading the collaborative project that is funded by the foundation. Project participants include: Bartlett High School, Benito Juarez Community Academy, Downers Grove North High School, Elk Grove High School, Free Spirit Media, Oak Park-River Forest High School, Perspectives Math and Science Academy, Roberto Clemente High School, Rolling Meadows High School and Wheeling High School.

“The goal of the project is to provide reporting that is accountable, verifiable and independent of bias,” said Stan Zoller, director of MJEI.

Zoller is developing the curriculum for the project that is based on Stony Brook University’s news literacy course. At the initial meeting, he explained that the students participating will be expected to do investigative reporting on a specific issue. Teachers and advisors brainstormed on topics ranging from the depletion of vocational courses to equipping ELL students for advanced placement opportunities.

After students have also suggested topics, the reporting theme will be selected in December. Production will take place from January to March. In April, Zoller will reconvene with teachers and advisors for a project summary. The students’ work will be published on an established website in May.

“You guys (teachers) are pioneers for doing this,” said Clark Bell, director of McCormick Journalism Program. “This is something that can be and should be replicated nationally.”

Bell said that from this pilot project the foundation hopes to host a national conference on news literacy in 2014 and a showcase for related projects in 2015.

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News Literacy Project visits Associated Press Chicago

Friday, November 02, 2012

By Sahar Alchammae, Robert R. McCormick Communications intern

Among journalists there is an old joke about fact-checking all sources, even one’s own mother. It is this message of skepticism that staff at Chicago’s Associated Press bureau shared with student journalists from Northside College Prep High School who were on a News Literacy Project field trip.

On October 17, the editorial team of The Hoofbeat, Northside College Prep’s school newspaper, was challenged to consider the question “how do you know?” Two AP staff members introduced the news organization, explaining its history and its role in providing content to media outlets. Next, they shared how the 2006 Sago mine collapse was misreported by numerous reputable publications. This example showed the students the importance validating facts.

During the closing question and answer segment, the students asked if social media is a useful source for reporting. One AP staffer responded by explaining that Twitter was a valuable tool when she was reporting on an emergency plane landing. She explained that social media can be used as a way to listen for trends and to discover sources but should not be considered a primary news source.

After the session, the students were provided with lunch and the opportunity to workshop story ideas with staffers.

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2012 C-LINKS cohort graduates with special honor

Friday, November 02, 2012

by Ashlei Williams, Robert R. McCormick Communications intern

Becoming an adult is some people’s biggest regret. But for the 23 teenagers involved in the 2012 Columbia College Chicago’s Columbia Links summer program not being able to grow up is their greatest fear.

For six weeks, the teens took multimedia courses based on the student-selected topic of violence. Veteran journalists lectured on Basic Reporting, Investigative/Multimedia Reporting and Special Reporting. Since 2006, C-LINKS has built expertise, relationships, skills and opportunities that connect students, teachers and volunteers through media.

“Ellyn was my mentor and she was really there with me the whole time,” said Lileana Moore, a student at Northside College Prep. “If there was a problem I ran into, I could email her or call her and talk to her and work it out.”

Family members, mentors and Columbia College Chicago staff in the audience of C-LINKS graduation. (Ashlei Williams/Robert R. McCormick Foundation)

On August 30, a graduation ceremony was held at Columbia College’s Collins Hall to celebrate the C-LINKS community’s work. Facing the audience of delighted family members, proud mentors and blushing students Brenda Butler, executive director of C-LINKS, led the presentation of the 2012 cohort’s compilation of letters and essays, “Don’t Shoot. I Want to Grow Up.”

Brenda Butler speaks about C-LINKS. (Ashlei Williams/Robert R. McCormick Foundation)

Moore’s article on CeaseFire, the Chicago organization made up of ex-gang members who advocate against gun violence, was highlighted in the presentation. Moore explained that while reporting she was able to travel with one of the CeaseFire members to the scene of a shooting. Such real-world experiences contributed to the journalism skills and knowledge that students gained.

“At my school the News Literacy Project came to our World Studies class and kind of talked to us so I had an experience knowing you need to check out the credibility of sources,” Moore said. “But this program really helped me to solidify that because I really had to be checking all of the things that I was finding through my research and making sure that I was using the right sources.”

Lileana Moore, a student at Northside College Prep. (Ashlei Williams/Robert R. McCormick Foundation)

Before students were granted their certificates and status as C-LINKS alumni, Laura Washington, of the Chicago Sun-Times and Channel 7, addressed the crowd with as the keynote speaker. Washington provided 10 tips of advice to the graduates such as supporting advocacy journalism, using discretion and exploding myths. Washington’s closing comments about showing gratitude can be seen by clicking on the video below.

Laura Washington speaks to the graduates. Click here for video. (Ashlei Williams/Robert R. McCormick Foundation)

After Washington’s speech, each student filed up to the podium to receive their credentials from Nancy Day, chair of Columbia College’s Journalism Department. But the work of the 2012 C-LINKS cohort did not end there. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office has been in contact with C-LINKS staff about the group’s compilation and will the students have the honor of presenting their work to the mayor himself. Discussions are also in place between staff and the Chicago Police Department about including Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy in that conversation. To stay updated on the C-LINKS program visit

Kevin Morales accepts C-LINKS certificate. (Ashlei Williams/Robert R. McCormick Foundation)

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Journalism as the future of civics curriculum

Friday, November 02, 2012

by Ashlei Williams, Robert R. McCormick Communications intern

What can journalism programs learn from civics education? In an August 15 presentation to Foundation staff, McCormick intern Alyssa Niese presented research on civic learning policy that has interesting implications for the Journalism Program’s work in news literacy.

During Niese’s presentation, she defined civics as the fostering of active and engaged citizens. She noted a national absence of civics caused by insufficient language in state constitutions and regulations of the “No Child Left Behind Act.”

Since as early as 1997, organizers have brainstormed solutions for civics education. One of the initiatives recognized is Illinois Civic Mission Coalition’s Democracy Schools, which requires curriculum evaluation, extracurricular opportunities and student government. Niese pointed out five ways that civics education could be improved in schools:
1. Require civics coursework
2. Add professional development workshops for teachers
3. Develop project-based assessments in schools
4. Implement service learning curriculum
5. Commit to the Democracy School model

These suggestions reflect recent academic discourse on how to improve journalism electives and programs in secondary schools. According to Elia Powers, a professor at American University’s School of Communication, journalism class requirements began disappearing when national achievement standards changed.

The Journalism Program has been actively supporting after-school journalism programs and news literacy education through in-classroom coursework.

In an interview with Education Week, noted education author Frank Baker said, “Media literacy is not an add-on: it is simply a lens through which we see and understand our world.”

The Civics Program conducted evaluations that showed that students found discussions and projects about current events particularly stimulating. Program evaluations also revealed that interactive methods are more effective with students than lectures. Also, research from National Assessment of Educational Progress Civics Assessment suggests that civics education can engage students and help them score higher on standardized tests.

There are numerous barriers to restructuring civics and journalism curricula, such as measurement of student comprehension and budgeting for new media technology as Niese and Powers noted.

The McCormick Foundation’s Journalism and Civics Programs are working to improve journalism and civics education in schools and communities.

For more information on the grant making and research being done by these programs visit

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