The Sift: Pulitzer Prize winners | AI chatbot friends

An educator's guide to
the week in news literacy

Teach news literacy this week
Pulitzer Prize winners | AI chatbot friends

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Top picks

Both sides of the Pulitzer Gold Medal. The front shows a side profile of Benjamin Franklin and the words “Honoris Causa” and “Awarded by Columbia University.” The back side of the medal shows an unidentified man working an old-fashioned hand-printing press.
The Pulitzer Prizes are announced annually and celebrate the best of American journalism.
Top pick 1

The Pulitzer Prizes, the highest honor in American journalism, were awarded last week. For the first time in the prize’s history, more online news outlets were honored than newspapers.

Lookout Santa Cruz, a four-year-old online publication in Santa Cruz, California, won a Pulitzer in the breaking news category for “its detailed and nimble community-focused coverage” of catastrophic flooding and mudslides, according to prize administrator Marjorie Miller. And a small Chicago-based nonprofit news site, the Invisible Institute, won two Pulitzers for its work on criminal justice and policing. One of its prizes, in local reporting, was shared with City Bureau, another nonprofit newsroom, for a two-year investigation of how Chicago police handle cases of missing Black women and girls.

In the public service category — considered the most prestigious — ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom, won for its impactful reporting on how a small group of billionaires wooed U.S. Supreme Court justices. The coverage led “the Court to adopt its first code of conduct,” according to the Pulitzer Prize website. The list of honorees included The New York Times, The New Yorker, Reuters, the Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press.

Dig Deeper: Use this think sheet to examine a piece of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism (meets NLP Standard 3).
Top pick 2

Local news outlets face several challenges today, including declining revenue — but most American adults (66%) say they still follow local news closely, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. However, the survey also found that most adults (63%) think their local news outlets are doing “very well or somewhat well” financially, despite widespread revenue concerns, staff cuts and closures at local news outlets across the country.

Another disruptive trend in journalism is generative AI technology. A new report by the Local News Initiative examines whether AI will help or hurt the local news industry. While AI expands possibilities in storytelling, it also introduces errors, lacks ethical guidelines and accelerates the spread of misinformation. Ultimately, every newsroom needs a strategy and guidelines for AI usage, the report concludes.

Top pick 3

TikTok says it will begin to automatically label AI-generated videos in the coming months using a third-party service that attaches metadata to AI-generated content. The move is an effort to combat misinformation on the video-sharing social media app ahead of this year’s presidential election in the U.S., although it’s not clear yet how effective the technology will be at catching synthetic images, video and audio. Other efforts from tech companies include watermarking AI content and partnerships with media and digital literacy organizations.

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RumorGuard Rundown
You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.


Nonsensical quote comparing sun and moon falsely attributed to Boebert, Ocasio-Cortez

A social media post featuring an image of U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert and another social media post featuring an image of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez both include a similar quote about the moon and the sun. The quote from Ocasio-Cortez says, “The moon is more important than the sun as the moon gives us light at night when it’s dark out. The sun only gives us light during the day when it’s already light out” and Boebert’s quote says, “The Moon is actually more useful than the Sun,” with the rest of the text the same as Ocasio-Cortez’s quote. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “FALSE.”

NO: Neither U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican, nor Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that the moon is more useful than the sun.

YES: This quote is an iteration of a phrase that has been circulating since the 1800s and has repeatedly been used to mock nonscientific opinions and the people who espouse them.

NewsLit takeaway: False claims can easily slip by undetected when they affirm a previously held opinion. If we believe that certain politicians are unintelligent, for example, we are more prone to believe rumors that paint those politicians in that light. When a false claim employs humor, it can catch us off guard and make these claims more appealing. In this case, the quote appeals to opinions about controversial figures on both sides of the political aisle. If a piece of misinformation elicits the feeling that it might as well be true, it’s a good idea to take a moment, reevaluate viewpoints and make sure they are based on facts — not jokes.

AI-generated image of Katy Perry at 2024 Met Gala fools even her mom

An X post reads, “Katy Perry. That’s it. #MetGala,” and features an image that appears to show singer Katy Perry in an elaborate floral dress at the 2024 Met Gala. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “AI-GENERATED IMAGE.”

NO: This is not a genuine photograph of Katy Perry at the 2024 fundraising gala for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City.

YES: This is an AI-generated image.

NO: While Perry has attended the Met Gala in previous years, she was not in attendance at the 2024 event.

NewsLit takeaway: It’s always been important to get information from trusted sources, but it’s even more crucial now because of artificial intelligence technologies that allow photorealistic images to be quickly and easily created. This image of Katy Perry, for example, wasn’t shared by the expected credible sources — such as entertainment publications, photography agencies or social media accounts of the celebrities at the Met Gala — but instead went viral after it was posted on X.

Realistic-looking imagery wasn’t the only aspect that made it seem believable. It was shared as an influx of genuine photographs of celebrities at the Met Gala were also circulating online. This is a common tactic to spread false information. Even Katy Perry’s own mother believed the image was genuine, according to a text exchange the singer shared on Instagram.

A banner ad by the News Literacy Project that reads, “A democracy resilient against misinformation starts with education.” An educator in a classroom smiles near the words, “Give what you can to NLP!”
TikTok’s future in the U.S. is still uncertain after a new law passed requiring the app be sold or face a nationwide ban. The app and its parent company are suing the U.S., saying a ban would violate the First Amendment.
Israel ordered Arab news network Al Jazeera to shut down its operations in the country for at least 45 days, citing security concerns. The U.S. State Department released a statement disagreeing with the decision.
Google is introducing AI-generated answers in search results — displacing links to human-written websites and sometimes making up fake answers.
Could an AI chatbot be your friend or therapist? A tech columnist experimented with having 18 AI “friends” for a month and found it amusing, but not a great replacement for real human friendship.
Conversing with AI-generated avatars of deceased loved ones is a booming business in China, building on Chinese traditions that involve communicating with the dead.
Gun violence disinformation is circulating on the Chinese social media app WeChat, which is used by three-quarters of Chinese Americans, according to a new report.
Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan spent four years in prison after reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. Although she was set to be released on May 13, it’s unclear what her status is
When people are confused about what sources of news are accurate, they’re more likely to be news avoidant, according to a new University of Michigan study.
A Southern California school district with a large working-class Latino population is offering journalism courses and training for elementary, middle and high school students — providing students with a pathway for becoming journalists.
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Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Susan Minichiello (@susanmini), Dan Evon (@danieljevon), Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) and Pamela Brunskill (@PamelaBrunskill). It is edited by Mary Kane (@marykkane) and Lourdes Venard (@lourdesvenard).

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