News & Announcements

News Literacy

Posted on February 23, 2017

By Linda Burke

What is “news literacy”? It is the ability to discern reliable news and information from less reliable, misleading, or even false information. A review of recent research and analysis suggests that many of us, and especially young people, are not prepared to tell the difference.

Joyce Valenza, an assistant professor at Rutgers University School of Information and Technology has written a useful article about news literacy. She points out that we have a guarantee of a free press, not a truthful one. It has always been up to us to decide how credible they are.

It is more difficult now.  The internet has expanded our choices for news. We can see reports that range from facts that have been carefully confirmed in the strict tradition of good journalism to a faulty report based on hearsay and bias or even complete fabrication.  Throw into this mix the revelations of fake news and accusations of a lying media.  It has become essential that we all improve our skills at discerning accurate, dependable news. In support of that goal I have included links to helpful sites at the end of this article. If you are willing, I would love to hear if they were helpful for conversations with your older children as well as for yourselves.

Fake news is as old as gossip, but we all know that technology has made it both easier to produce a professional look and faster to distribute.  Not so long ago, you could easily access trustworthy sources of information. Most of us knew what those were so we could help our children with their research based on our own experience. Now there are fake news websites that make small changes so they look surprisingly like those dependable sources and therefore feel true. Pictures are easily altered. There ARE dependable sources, both those that give us the facts and try to present all sides of an issue, and those that argue on behalf of those sides to sway our thinking. The issue isn’t to avoid them all but to be able to discern WHO is speaking. WHAT makes them qualified?  WHAT reputable publishing source is behind them and will hold them accountable to the truth?  WHO is their intended audience and WHAT is their purpose?  These are the most basic questions students have to answer when doing research. Finding the answers is the challenge.

My concerns do not come from just anecdotal evidence. In November the Stanford History Education Group released the results of their study about how well students are prepared to analyze what they see and read on the internet and in the news. The results were alarming. In their summary they said:

“Our ‘digital natives’ may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped.

We did not design our exercises to shake out a grade or make hairsplitting distinctions between a “good” and a “better” answer. Rather, we sought to establish a reasonable bar, a level of performance we hoped was within reach of most middle school, high school, and college students. For example, we would hope that middle school students could distinguish an ad from a news story. By high school, we would hope that students reading about gun laws would notice that a chart came from a gun owners’ political action committee.

And, in 2016, we would hope college students, who spend hours each day online, would look beyond a .org URL and ask who’s behind a site that presents only one side of a contentious issue. But in every case and at every level we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation.”

To read the report, including some of the exercises given the students in the study, go to: Stanford History Education Group (2016): Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning.

Then in December The Pew Research Center reported on the results of a study about fake news and their proliferation. but what concerns me most is the statistic that 23% of respondents had shared fake news and 16% found out it was false after they had shared.

You can read a report of the study at “Many Americans Believe Fake News is Sowing Confusion.”

For more information check out the following websites and books.

  • There is a short video in TedEd by Damon Brown that offers a  good overview  for choosing where you get your news:
  • NPR’s On the Media put out the Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook. You can access it through several sources but if you would like to see all the follow-up handbooks in one place (airline edition, infectious disease’s edition, etc.) go to Stony Brook University Digital Resource Center.
  • Finally, if you are willing to do quite a bit of reading,  False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical “News” Sources  by Melissa Zimdars, is very helpful. There are tips on how to analyze a website. Plus she has listed websites with an analysis of whether each website is biased, fake, satirical, unreliable, and more. This is work she and some librarians have done for OpenSource. Melissa Zimdars is an Associate Professor for Communication and Media at Merrimack College.

We should all be in the habit of checking the truth of what we read, see, or hear. Good sources are:

Stebbins, Leslie F. Finding Reliable Information Online: Adventures of an Information Sleuth, Rowman & Littlefield (2015)–soon to be in the Parent Library.

I would be happy to provide you with more sources.  Just give me a call or email me.

Linda Burke,
AWS Librarian

“The students seem to all love each other - through the years as they transform from kindergarteners into high school. I am so proud of my Waldorf family”