NEW YORK (AP) — A special effort launched this week is promoting the idea of news literacy education to help the public, particularly young people who have grown up with social media, learn to track down trustworthy information.
News organizations across the country are backing National News Literacy Week, with a particularly aggressive campaign across television stations and other properties owned by the E.W. Scripps Co. Teachers are meeting journalists at Bloomberg News to learn how newsgathering works.
The ultimate goal is to get news literacy programs incorporated into civics education in as many schools as possible, said Alan Miller, founder of the News Literacy Project.
“The truth is we live at a time when people have more credible and valuable information at their fingertips than at any time in history,” Miller said. “Yet misinformation has turned that world against us in so many ways.”
Young people are growing up with social media that can spread false rumors as fast as fact, and watching television stations where it’s hard to discern opinions from fact, Adam Symson, Scripps president and CEO, said Wednesday.
“Over the long haul, if Americans cannot discern quality journalism from garbage, we as a journalism company are going to have trouble selling our wares,” Symson said.
The news literacy experts cite surveys that show many people don’t know the difference between opinion pieces and news articles. An overwhelming majority of young people did not understand, for example, why they might want to double-check assertions about climate change on a website funded by the fossil fuel industry.
The idea of news literacy is to get people to understand biases embedded in information and recognize credible news sources where they can double-check for the truth, Miller said.
Consumers need to look no further than the 2016 election and other political campaigns to see the ease and influence of spreading false information, he said.
“We believe that misinformation is one of the challenges of our time,” said Miller, a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times. “We believe it is threatening to undermine the civic life of our country.”
Journalists have also taken a lot for granted, he said.
“We did not tell the public what we did, how important it is and why,” he said. “There is just a tremendous amount that they’re not aware of. And why would they be?”
Because asking uncomfortable questions of the nation’s elite is part of their role, journalists have never been particularly popular, and President Donald Trump repeatedly attacks the press. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s anger at a National Public Radio reporter for what she asked in an interview last week is only the latest example of this playing out.
Symson said the problems of some journalists are less important than the American public being armed with information so they can be smart participants in civic life. Journalists at Scripps stations have volunteered at high schools to teach the standards and principles of journalism and help them produce stories.
The News Literacy Project has also created a game-like app designed to help people distinguish between what is factual and what is not.
“Opinions are stubborn things and are often impervious to facts,” Miller said. “If we get to a point in society where we can’t agree on facts, we’re going to have a real problem.”