A short, strategic convening for journalists to find common purpose with teachers, educational administrators and public-policy researchers on the meaning and teaching of news literacy

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. – As the Internet increasingly puts two-way communication tools into the hands of all citizens, American teen-agers should be taught techniques for analyzing and creating news, a group of educators, scholars and journalists has recommended.

Nearly 70 journalists, educators, new media professional and high school students gathered in Philadelphia for “Rebooting the News: Reconsidering an Agenda for American Civic Education,” a conference co-sponsored by the National Constitution Center, Temple University Media Education Laboratory and The Media Giraffe Project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“Because news surrounds us, news literacy is an essential life skill for everyone,” says a statement adopted signed by a group of conference participants. “To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson: Knowledge of current issues is essential to informed citizenship in a democracy. People are concerned about the effects of media on youth and others. Modern participatory culture makes every citizen a potential creator of news in social media, blogs, email and the web. Citizens need to understand the purposes, processes and economics of news.”

According to the conference participants, “News literacy is defined as the acquisition of 21st-century, critical-thinking skills for analyzing and judging the reliability of news, differentiating among facts, opinions and assertions in the media we create and distribute. It can be taught most effectively in cross-curricular, inquiry-based formats at all grade levels. It is a necessary component for literacy in contemporary society.”

At the kickoff event at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center, Margaret Duffy of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism spoke about the changing news and media usage habits of young adults. Fabrice Florin, a distinguished technology expert, shared his work building an online community of news readers at Steve Yelvington, an online journalist formerly of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, shared thoughts about the past, present and future of journalism’s mission and civic purposes.

On Friday, Howard Schneider, dean of the School of Journalism at University of New York, Stony Brook offered a keynote address on news literacy, describing his innovative model for teaching about the news to university students. On Saturday, Mark Goodman, head of the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State, offered a keynote on the legal challenges faced by student journalists today.
Using a democratic conference format where participants themselves offered up questions, topics and issues to shape the conference agenda, questions focused on the actual practices for developing news and media literacy and the use of online and social media tools for developing civic engagement in the context of elementary, secondary and higher education.

Questions included: What does news literacy look and sound like in K-12 classrooms? Is it possible to laugh at our political process without disengaging from it? How do we train teachers effectively for implementing news literacy? How can we utilize online tools to promote news literacy? Can student journalism programs build news literacy skills? Why or why not?

The diverse nature of the conference participants created many opportunities for learning and sharing. Participants included Brian Doyle, a media literacy educator just graduated from Old Miss where he was editor of his college newspaper, Jackie Kain, head of new media at KCET Los Angeles, Jeannine Cook of Philadelphia’s Youth Empowerment Services which runs a media program for out-of-school youth, and Diana Mitsu-Clos of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, D.C. among many others. In addition to educators and journalists, high school students from the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia participated in the conference, sharing their insights about media, technology, and news and current events.

According to conference host Renee Hobbs of Temple University, “Educators and journalists are both stakeholders in helping the next generation of young people understand how to critically analyze information sources, especially news and current events.”

Other topics explored the issue of how news and media literacy depends upon a robust interpretation of copyright and fair use; the difference between skepticism and cynicism; the blurring of the roles of producer and consumer; and the challenge of encouraging youth civic engagement in authoritarian education environments.

LOCATIONS: Temple University downtown conference center, Center City
1515 Market St. / Philadelphia, PA 19102 and the
National Constitution Center, Independence Mall, 525 Arch Street.