National NewsLitCamp®️: Trust and Credibility Agenda and Schedule

Join us on Jan. 27 for NewsLitCamp®: Trust and Credibility, held as part of National News Literacy Week.

Friday, Jan. 27, 2023
9 A.M. – 6 P.M. EST

NewsLitCamp: Trust and Credibility is a free, virtual event hosted by the News Literacy Project in partnership with NBCUniversal News Group! It is designed to help educators teach students to analyze news and information with a skeptical — not cynical — eye. The professional learning will highlight:  

  • What it means for news to inform us credibly.  
  • How persuasion can and should be credible.  
  • What it means for a source to be trustworthy.  

Sessions start at 9 a.m. ET Jan. 27 and continue throughout the day. They will include insights from journalism professionals and news literacy and media experts nationwide, along with the opportunity to connect and share directly with others. 

View speakers and panelists here.

All sessions are listed in Eastern Standard Time. If you have not yet registered for this event, please visit the registration link (this ensures we can follow up with you after the event!).  

To join a session, use the provided Zoom link below. If you need assistance or have questions, please contact us at newslitcamp@newslit.org 


Agenda and schedule

View speakers and panelists here.

Time  Session Description  Session Webinar Link 
9:00-10:15 a.m.   Welcome to NewsLitCamp and opening session: What does it mean to be “news-literate”? 

 

In this webinar, we’ll provide an overview of the news literacy concepts and skills that students need in order to be reliably informed, such as recognizing the difference between news and other types of information, including opinion and propaganda. We will use the standards of quality journalism to identify credible news sources and common types of misinformation. 

https://newslitproject.zoom.us/j/89516342626 

 

10:30-11:40 a.m.   Introduction to resources from the News Literacy Project 

 

Join experts from The News Literacy Project for a session highlighting NLP-developed resources to introduce and incorporate key news literacy concepts in your classroom. This session will be facilitated by Shaelynn Farnsworth, Senior Director of Education Partnership Strategy. 

 

https://newslitproject.zoom.us/j/82014061940 

 

12:00-12:50 p.m.   How can journalists call out misinformation without being perceived as biased and losing the public trust?   

 

Join us for a panel of NBCUniversal News Group journalists, moderated by Ali Velshi, MSNBC host, as they discuss how journalists today approach balancing credibility and persuasion, debunking misinformation and maintaining public trust. Featured panelists include Tom Llamas, NBC News NOW anchor; Brandy Zadrozny, NBC News senior reporter; and Chris Scholl, NBC News Standards senior vice president. The discussion will be followed by a live audience Q&A.        

 

https://newslitproject.zoom.us/j/81601583226 

 

1:00-1:50 p.m.   How news organizations ensure fair representation on air  

 

How does a news organization determine who should appear on a panel discussing hot button issues to ensure a fair representation of views? Join us for a panel discussion focused on how newsrooms ensure credible, fair representation of topics on air and how they can combat misinformation. Moderated by Jesse Rodriguez, MSNBC vice president of Editorial and Booking, this panel will include Bill Hinkle, coordinating producer of NBC News NOW; Lori Ann LaRocco, CNBC News senior editor of guests; Andre Brooks, NBC News NOW executive producer; and Nina Sen, director of NBC News Standards. It will be followed by a live audience Q&A.  

https://newslitproject.zoom.us/j/81525765571 

 

2:00-2:50 p.m.   How can the news media repair its trust problem with marginalized communities?  

 

What factors have led to a deterioration of trust when it comes to the media and communities they cover? Moderated by NBC News NOW Correspondent Zinhle Essamuah, this afternoon panel will address timely questions about the relationship between traditional news media and marginalized communities, what journalists are doing to address the disconnect and more. Featured panelists include Guad Venegas, NBC News correspondent; Jamie Nguyen, NBC News Consumer Investigations senior producer; Chiara Sottile, NBC News reporter and producer; and Belén Smole, Philadelphia’s Telemundo 62 anchor. The discussion will be followed by a live audience Q&A. 

https://newslitproject.zoom.us/j/82261404436 

 

2:50-3:00 p.m.   Final remarks and thanks from NBCU Academy   

  

Featured speakers will include Yvette Miley, senior vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, NBCUniversal News Group, and John Silva, from the News Literacy Project.   

Link above 
3:00–4:00 p.m.   Harm & Distrust: Why communities of color often have misgivings about mainstream news  

 

Marginalized communities have not always received fair coverage from legacy news organizations. In fact, throughout American history, many groups have suffered demonstrable harms from biased, one-sided or otherwise problematic coverage. While significant progress has been made, newsrooms still lack diversity, sometimes fail to scrutinize official narratives and struggle to equally serve the information needs of all members of the public. 

  

The News Literacy Project is releasing a Checkology® virtual classroom lesson titled “Harm & Distrust” that examines the damage caused by mainstream coverage of Black Americans, and the legacies of distrust this has produced. To launch this new lesson, we’re hosting a virtual conversation to explore these issues and look at how today’s journalists have made strides but still have a way to go. Joining us are Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wes Lowery; lesson host and WBEZ reporter Natalie Moore; Peter Adams, NLP’s senior vice president of research and design; and moderator Julia Torres, director of special projects at EduColor.   

https://newslitproject.zoom.us/j/84407879727 

 

4:30–5:30 p.m.   What does it mean to be “news-literate”? (Repeat session)  

 

In this webinar, we’ll provide an overview of the news literacy concepts and skills that students need in order to be reliably informed, such as recognizing the difference between news and other types of information, including opinion and propaganda. We will use the standards of quality journalism to identify credible news sources and common types of misinformation. This will be a repeat of the morning session. 

https://newslitproject.zoom.us/j/84908749609 

 

To keep our democracy strong, we need to restore trust in news media

By ALEE QUICK
Civic Marketing Manager, News Literacy Project

Americans are politically polarized, cynical about long-respected institutions and disappointed with elected leaders at the local, state and national levels. What’s driving these trends? I believe a sweeping lack of trust is a significant factor.

Trust is an essential element to strong personal, professional and societal relationships. Without it, relationships break down, often with unfortunate consequences. Research bears this out. The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer found that nearly six in 10 respondents automatically distrust something until they encounter evidence of its credibility. And nearly two thirds said we can no longer have constructive, civil discourse about important issues. The researchers noted, “when distrust is the default — we lack the ability to debate or collaborate.”

The public’s wariness is understandable and misinformation is a major factor. In the 2020 Northwestern University Medill Trust in U.S. News Media study, 82% of those surveyed expressed concern about discerning fact-based information from falsehoods. Three-quarters of respondents in the Edelman study worried about misinformation being used as a weapon.

News organizations and journalists are the focus of much cynicism. Trust in news fell in half the countries surveyed for the 2022 Reuters Institute Digital News Survey, with the U.S. at the bottom with just 26% of respondents trusting the news. And 46% of Edelman respondents found journalists credible, making them the least trusted of societal leaders in the report, barely ahead of government leaders, who gained the confidence of just 43% of respondents.

When trust waivers, so does democracy.

Once trust is gone, it’s tough to regain. But it’s critical that we all work to restore it. That’s because public trust and a news media industry that does its job well go hand in hand in protecting our democracy. That’s why my organization, the News Literacy Project (along with The E.W. Scripps Company), is focusing on trust in newsrooms and news coverage during our fourth annual National News Literacy Week (Jan. 23-27). News literacy is the ability to identify credible new sources so you know what information you can trust, share and act on.

The acceptance of facts is central to productive discourse and the functioning of our institutions. When we can’t agree on a common set of facts and credible sources, that cynicism cascades into distrust of institutions, decision-makers and governing bodies. The result is a weaker democracy.

Then there’s this: Distrust is simply bad for us. A 2021 study at the University of Bonn in Germany found that lack of trust in others is associated with chronic loneliness.

Restoring trust: It’s up to the press and the public.

Trust is a two-way street. To repair this credibility gap between the public and the press, both members of the media and news consumers must act.

News organizations must keep the public well-informed and cover the issues that communities care about most. Newsroom leaders need to clearly identify what is opinion, analysis, or straight news and explain how their newsroom decides what stories to cover and how to cover them.

Improving newsroom diversity is imperative to better reflect the community. While nobody is perfect, being transparent and fixing errors promptly and prominently goes a long way in maintaining credibility.

News consumers are the other half of the equation. We have responsibilities, too. Pay attention to what’s happening in your community. Subscribe to a local news outlet to ensure your town doesn’t become a “news desert.” Hold news organizations accountable. When they make a mistake or coverage falls short, call them on it. Be civically engaged. Learn about the issues important to you and vote.

Most importantly, become more news-literate.

News literacy is key.

What does it mean to be news-literate? This nonpartisan approach to media literacy teaches people how to think about news and other information, not what to think. It provides an understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in a democracy, and it emphasizes a healthy skepticism — not cynicism — about the information we encounter.

There are easy ways to learn the skills you need to navigate the news more confidently, protect yourself — and your friends and family — from being misled, and push back against the kind of false and misleading information that eats away at the public’s trust in news. You can learn how to identify credible news sources, spot red flags that often accompany misinformation, and build other news literacy skills at NewsLiteracyWeek.org.

Closing the credibility gap is crucial to the health of our democracy. Trust me on this.

Alee Quick is the civic marketing manager for the News Literacy Project and a former newspaper editor in Illinois. She may be reached at aquick@newslit.org.

Jan. 6 insurrection a game-changer for news literacy educators

Photo credit: Molly Boyle

The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was a watershed moment for high school teacher Anne-Michele Boyle.

Until then, she’d spent only a few days teaching media literacy to students in her Global Citizenship course. But when she and her students watched events unfold live during remote learning, she immediately reworked her curriculum.

“I scrapped my entire lesson plan for February and devoted that month to media literacy,” recalled Boyle, who also teaches AP World History at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago. “January sixth illustrated to me how fragile democracy is and how dangerous misinformation can be.”

After the uprising, Boyle spent months developing a full media literacy curriculum for the roughly 90 juniors and seniors in her class. She now spends all of January — and often part of February —teaching this subject.

Inundated with information

That same day in Mason, Ohio, Jocelyn Burlew was teaching seventh and eighth grade history online. As soon as her students logged in, they began asking questions about what was happening. “These questions paired perfectly with our study of the Constitution, particularly the powers of the president as well as our rights and responsibilities as we discussed the Bill of Rights,” she said.

She, too, saw an opportunity to provide her students with a news literacy lesson in real time, noting that they were inundated with videos, memes, news stories, eyewitness accounts and more.

“We had to slow down and really start to analyze what we were seeing and hearing, and then take what we knew about the Constitution, the role of the media, as described in the First Amendment, to really start to grasp what was happening and understand the difference between types of information and how to vet it,” said Burlew, a news literacy ambassador for the News Literacy Project, who teaches in the Mason City School District in suburban Cincinnati.

She uses NLP’s educator newsletter The Sift® and the Checkology® e-learning platform to weave news literacy into her classes. “I initially used Checkology’s ‘InfoZones’ lesson to introduce my students to the various types of information they may come across. I then used these concepts in their study of ancient Athens and Sparta.”

That foundation helped them better understand the uprising and the role of a free press in a democracy. She hopes her students take away from her class the understanding “that we have to be thoughtful and critical consumers of media and hold news outlets to the standards of quality journalism.”

Students share what they learn

Photo credit: Molly Boyle

To keep her course current, Boyle forgoes a textbook and brings in new resources each year. She also uses educator resources on NLP’s website to help students build essential skills, including lateral reading, reverse image searches, evaluating sources and geolocation.

“We examine the extent to which the sources we use adhere to standards of quality journalism, why standards matter and why journalists have a lot to lose if they don’t follow those standards. We compare this to the news posts students see on TikTok,” she said.

Boyle also teaches Checkology’s “Misinformation,” “Conspiratorial Thinking” and “Understanding Bias” lessons.

As her students begin to recognize the real dangers of misinformation they can act on their knowledge. For example, as part of a final project, some students created news literacy quizzes on the game-based learning app Kahoot! for family get-togethers. They wanted to teach older relatives how to spot conspiracy theories on social media and to recognize mis- and disinformation. “They’re taking the skills they learn and reaching more people,” she said.

And she’s watched their understanding of the problem evolve. “Before we started the [media literacy] unit, most did not realize how scary  January sixth was. It is essential for all people to understand the connection between having a strong democracy and strong media literacy skills.”

Personal impact

Burlew has had similar experiences. “In general, students love having the knowledge and power to debunk what they see and hear.”

And for Boyle, the insurrection also had a personal impact. A month prior she had applied to the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. Immediately after that day she got permission to resubmit her application with a new focus on a plan to improve media literacy. She won the fellowship.

Both educators want their students to recognize the value of their newfound skills. “First and foremost, media literacy is absolutely essential to a strong democracy. Period,” Boyle said.

2022, the year in misinformation: News literacy takeaways

2022 Misinformation Year in Review

In 2022, misinformation continued to spread on social media and make its mark on the news cycle. From “cheap fakes” to miscaptioned videos to conspiratorial claims and rumors made entirely out of whole cloth, we review some of the biggest misinformation claims of the year and offer tips on how to better navigate social media in the new year.

1. Breaking news rumors

Even during the earliest stages of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, propagandists swarmed social media to muddy the waters and alter the narrative. The driving focus behind many of these rumors was to downplay the severity of the attack by claiming the war was somehow faked or staged. Social media posts used miscaptioned news footage and altered news reporting, and behind-the-scenes movie footage that had nothing to do with the war to support the false claims.

Other purveyors of misinformation took a different approach, connecting the conflict to a wide range of conspiracy theories, including that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was related to billionaire George Soros and that the United States was operating secret biolabs across Ukraine. Video game footage was also passed off as “shocking” evidence of military attacks, and a spate of rumors amplified Russian disinformation narratives, including false claims that the Ukrainian resistance is made up of Nazis.

NewsLit takeaway: Breaking news events — especially those that occur in foreign countries and during chaotic times in which information is scarce and the situation is in flux — provide ample opportunities for purveyors of misinformation to spread false claims. Russia, arguably the world’s leading producer of disinformation, has a strong interest in manufacturing confusion and doubt about its invasion. Be cautious about sharing information during breaking news cycles before it has been confirmed by credible sources.

2. Anti-vaccination falsehoods

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a rise of anti-vaccination sentiments that persisted in 2022. Vaccine denialist narratives that were prominent in 2020 and 2021 gained more mainstream traction as they were amplified by celebrities and repackaged into slick pseudo-documentary films. While many of the anti-vaccine rumors that circulated in 2022 were simply rehashed versions of previously debunked claims — a nonexistent increase in athletes collapsing, bogus claims about vaccines altering DNA, misattributed celebrity deaths and a false depopulation theory — their prevalence and proliferation meant that health misinformation continued to spread.

NewsLit takeaway: Anti-vaccination rumors infected a wide range of communities, from alternative health and wellness groups seeking “natural” remedies to anti-government followers opposed to regulations and mandates. These false rumors (like many conspiracy theories) appeal to people because they seem to provide answers during times of uncertainty, but they merely shelter people from the truth. Seek out health information from credible sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

3. Election fraud allegations

Ripples from the “Big Lie” of the 2020 presidential election continued to reverberate into the 2022 midterm contests. Some social media users repackaged familiar tropes — exaggerating mundane technical problems, misrepresenting the actions of poll workers, and spreading baseless lies about election laws — to cast doubt on the process and results.

NewsLit takeaway: Despite the false claims, very few cases of voter fraud occurred during the midterms. And election fraud falsehoods didn’t have the same impact as in 2020. One reason for this may be the rise of “prebunking” — or identifying examples of rumors that users are likely to encounter as an event approaches. The News Literacy Project produced this infographic to alert people about the types of rumors they would likely see during the midterms.

4. Economic conspiracies

The world in 2022 continued to experience interruptions in the supply chain that contributed to food and product shortages and inflation, while demand and supply imbalances led to higher gas prices. The effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic rippled throughout the global economy as well. Some social media users exploited the issues by catastrophizing their impact and spreading falsehoods about their causes. Alarmist falsehoods politicizing shortages in infant formula circulated, as did baseless claims that the U.S. was on the brink of running out of diesel fuel. Conspiracy theorists also pushed absurd claims that a government cabal was intentionally causing shortages — by representing videos of crops being burned or cows dying in a heat wave to contend these resulted from deliberate state actions.

NewsLit takeaway: Partisans and conspiracy theory communities often spin and exaggerate real world events to fit their own agendas. Following standards-based news organizations on social media can help mitigate the spread of these misleading takes. Practicing lateral reading also helps avoid conspiratorial rabbit holes.

5. Altered audio

One popular form of misinformation in 2022 involved genuine video clips with unrelated pieces of audio added to them. Anti-Biden chants and jeers were added to videos of first lady Jill Biden at a football game, former President Barack Obama at a rally, and President Joe Biden during a visit to London for Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. Digital software capable of impersonating celebrity voices was also used to spread misinformation, such as this doctored video of former President Donald Trump appearing to praise Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, shortly after West showed support for Nazis, and this video of Elon Musk seeming to mock “crybaby liberals” shortly after taking over Twitter.

NewsLit takeaway: Deepfakes tend to attract attention, but purveyors of misinformation also can create quick and convincing videographic fakes with simple manipulations of context, or by merely swapping out the audio. These altered videos can be detected by tracking down the authentic source footage, but it’s a step few people take as they scroll through their feeds, especially when the message resonates with their existing views and biases.

6. Fake litter boxes and anti-transgender claims

One of the biggest stories of the year never happened. A baseless, transphobic internet falsehood about (nonexistent) schools accommodating (nonexistent) students who “identify as cats” made its way into school board meetings as secondhand anecdotes, then were amplified by right-wing podcasters and pundits. Influential podcast host Joe Rogan, for example, shared a claim on his show that his friend’s wife worked at a school that was forced to install such a litter box to accommodate a student; he later retracted the story because there was no evidence that it was real. Litter boxes quickly became a modern-day urban legend.

NewsLit takeaway: Confirmation bias can be incredibly powerful. The right-wing media ecosystem regularly highlighted controversies over transgender people using bathrooms, competing in sports and choosing their own pronouns. Anger and fear over this issue intensified in some partisan circles and paved the way for implausible scenarios (a school installing a litter box for a child to use instead of a bathroom) to be credulously believed and repeated as a political talking point. Be sure to check other sources of credible information before sharing a viral or controversial post.

7. Flat Earth and climate-change lies

Even as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope captured images of distant galaxies, social media users were busy spreading rumors that the Earth was flat. Even more disconcerting, there was a general rise in climate misinformation in 2022, including false claims maligning electric cars, a fabricated magazine cover that indicated climate change is a hoax and accusations that the media was doctoring weather maps to sow panic.

NewsLit takeaway: Misinformation relies on the rejection of credible and authoritative sources. This is exemplified in the flat Earth conspiracy theory and, more importantly, in the rejection of overwhelming evidence of Earth’s changing climate. To follow climate change developments, seek out information from standards-based news organizations and credible science sources.

Making the connection between media literacy and democracy

From the perspective of 2022, Mary Robb and her colleagues look like fortune tellers. Back in 2001 — before 9/11 conspiracy theories, viral memes and QAnon — the educators created a Democracy and Media Literacy course.

“We were teaching civics and figured it made no sense to teach students how to be citizens without teaching them how to navigate the media,” recalled Robb, who teaches social studies at Andover High School in Andover, Massachusetts.

She and her fellow teachers began by giving students a strategy for evaluating the credibility of news and other content borrowed from another colleague,  Kathryn Reusch. It’s called WAIL:

  • W: for the most powerful words use in an article.
  • A: for adjectives and adverbs and what they might indicate about bias.
  • I: for the information included.
  • L : for the information left out.

“We want to help students become active rather than passive news consumers. What they learn in our class they use every single day,” Robb said.

Senior Nicholas Leonard, who took the class last spring, said learning to analyze news articles has helped him think more critically. “We’d take a story and break it down— right wing, left wing and centrist sources — and then piece the story together to get to the facts. We stripped away the bias.”

Among the resources Robb and her colleagues use to keep the classwork relevant and engaging is NLP’s free weekly newsletter for educators, The Sift®. “It’s this wonderful, serendipitous situation. We’ll be discussing a topic, say voter fraud, and you’ll have a piece on the topic,” she said. “We’ll use The Sift to understand the necessity to be mindful consumers of news, to pause to think.”

The students go through The Sift item by item, pausing after each one to write down their thoughts. “Now it is second nature. They are much more mindful news consumers,” she said.

Meaningful conversations

Senior Siham Berty took Mary Robb’s Democracy and Media Literacy course last year and said, “she made sure we had access to a wide range of sources, so we always felt like were getting the truth. And we felt like we could voice our opinions.”

Senior Siham Berty took Robb’s class last fall and said she now looks at information differently. “If you asked me a year or two ago, I was 10 times more likely to believe what I saw on social media. Now I take it with pinch of salt. I don’t look at the first thing Google gives me. I go through other news sources.”

One of Berty’s favorite elements of the course was the meaningful interaction with other students. “Her (Robb’s) class really focuses on group discussion. She made sure we had access to a wide range of sources, so we always felt like were getting the truth. And we felt like we could voice our opinions.”

Leonard said that interaction was useful in other ways as well. “I think it really helped in finding common ground. We’d research a story, then break off into groups and come together and talk about it. I think that really helped in promoting compromise and understanding.”

The discussions were vital to understanding the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising at the U.S. Capitol. “We had to talk about it because of all the attempts to spin the events. Some of them (the students) got angry at that,” Robb said.

She asked students how they heard about the riots and reacted to the news. Then she had students apply the WAIL process to the information they consumed. They realized how different the facts about the event could be, based on the accounts they read. They also broke into groups where students of all political stripes felt comfortable and empowered to speak, Robb said.

To help students understand the impact of social media on their lives, they are asked to take a break from all platforms for one school week. They keep track of what it’s like to be offline each day. Not surprisingly, some feel like they are missing out on what other kids are talking about. But others notice differences in themselves. One student told Robb, “I feel much more calm.” Another said, “I feel more in charge of my thoughts.”

Media literacy and civic engagement

Leonard, who also works as a videographer for the town of Andover recording public meetings and events, considers himself civically engaged. But he said the class strengthened his desire to become even more involved. “I think it made me want to be more engaged. It’s made me aware of people who didn’t have a voice. I want to be politically active and make a difference.”

By the end of the semester, students have the confidence to share what they’ve learned outside of class. Leonard has done so in conversations with his parents about politics. “They might mention something, and I’ll say, ‘Oh, where did you get that,’ and we will look at it together,” he said.

And the learning doesn’t stop at the classroom door. Students get extra credit when they do community service, attend a municipal meeting or volunteer at the polls on Election Day. One year, 30 of Robb’s students volunteered in some form. “They were so passionate,” she said.

That passion for civic responsibility endures. “I’ve gone to vote and seen students I had five or six years earlier. They say, ‘Of course, I vote.’ That is so encouraging,” she said.

Podcast special | “Sandy Hook at 10: Tragedy, Conspiracies and Justice”

On Dec. 14, it will be 10 years since a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 first graders and six adults. Soon after, conspiracy theories calling the massacre a hoax emerged. And they have persisted for a decade, thanks to amplification and profiteering by “alt-right” media figure Alex Jones.

In a special two-part episode of our podcast Is that a fact? — “Sandy Hook at 10: Tragedy, conspiracy theories and justice” — we explore the aftermath of the shooting and how what seemed like an aberration of untruths would instead develop into a bellwether for a shift in public discourse, with conspiracy theories becoming a common element of tragic events. We also discuss how victims’ families have fought back against the lies and harassment and brought about lasting change.

‘Typhoid Mary of the Sandy Hook hoax’

In part one, Elizabeth Williamson, a feature writer with The New York Times and author of Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth, explains the incomprehensible need to deny reality and the lucrative market that exploits people’s vulnerability. “He is a sort of a Typhoid Mary of the Sandy Hook hoax,” Williamson said of Jones. She noted that he “has been there at every stop along our descent as a nation down the rabbit hole.” 

A father fights back

In part two, we speak with Lenny Pozner, father of Noah, the youngest victim at Sandy Hook. Pozner knew early on that the hoaxers’ movement would be widespread, lasting and harmful. So, he chose to fight back on behalf of his child and other victims. “Noah’s story will always need to be told because there’ll always be someone misusing it,” he said. “I knew that I needed to do everything that I’m able to do to help debunk, to help clarify, to tell my story as best as I can, which really is just telling Noah’s story.”

We hope you’ll listen to these compelling interviews and share them with your community, helping to make sure facts and evidence are front and center in these conversations.

For more insightful interviews about misinformation, news literacy and society, be sure to check out the first two seasons of Is that a fact?. Season One analyzes misinformation and elections, and Season Two addresses false narratives and the harm they cause.

A decade after Sandy Hook, progress through the pain

On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. and, within minutes, ended the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults.

In the decade since that day, grieving families have had to contend with conspiracy theorists – egged on by “alt-right” radio host Alex Jones and others – who believe the shooting never happened and the victims never existed.

To help make sense of the incomprehensible need some people have to deny reality, and to learn how to successfully fight disinformation spreaders like Jones, I recently turned to New York Times feature writer Elizabeth Williamson, author of Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth. I also spoke with Lenny Pozner, whose six-year-old-son, Noah, died in the shooting and became a particular point of obsession for those who deny the tragedy.

Williamson and Pozner helped trace the origins of the mass delusions a dispiriting percentage of our fellow Americans now seem to be under, and detailed the emotional journey of what it takes to fight against conspiracy theories – and win gains. Surprisingly, these conversations also left me feeling hopeful about a future where we are all more responsible consumers of news and information.

What makes Jones so dangerous

Jones began denying the Sandy Hook shooting within hours through his widely popular broadcast. Shockingly, Williamson confirmed that even today, multiple credible surveys show that one in five Americans now believe all mass shootings are hoaxes.

Williams said Jones helped drive this through his broadcasts, which draw an audience of tens of millions of devoted fans. A few different elements make his messages particularly potent, dangerous – and lucrative. One key strategy, Williamson said, is that Jones taps into the strong sense of community among conspiracy theorists and uses that to mobilize people.

“He deputizes his audience to fight back. In the case of Sandy Hook, they did that with confrontation and with threats of violence,” she told me.

Along the way, Jones has profited handsomely, casting doubt on COVID –19 vaccines while selling quack cures, for example.

“He stokes all of these fears and then he is offering a product as a solution,” Williamson said.

Harm – and progress 

These examples show how conspiracy theories and hoaxes can end up affecting all of us. For Pozner, the force of mis- and disinformation consumed his whole life.

Immediately after the Sandy Hook shooting, online “hoaxers,” as Pozner calls the hordes of truth-deniers, questioned everything about Noah’s life and his death. Despite the emotional pain it caused him, Pozner dedicated himself to setting the record straight – from correcting seemingly small errors of fact on legacy news websites to tackling much larger conspiracy theories on social media sites and blogging platforms. For those efforts, Pozner’s family and other Sandy Hook victims received death threats sent to their homes.

In the face of immense loss, Pozner and the family members persevered in their defense of facts – and they have notched significant wins. Perhaps that’s why, even on this otherwise heart-wrenching anniversary of the shooting, I choose to see progress through the pain.

Jones recently lost three defamation lawsuits filed by victims’ family members and has been ordered to pay almost $1.5 billion in damages, with one more trial outstanding. Pozner – through the work of his nonprofit, the HONR network, and through the advocacy of others – has convinced major tech companies such as Facebook and WordPress to change their policies and terms of service to better protect the next of kin of major tragedies, and crack down on hate and harassment.

How to push back against conspiracies

But we can’t rely on the victims of tragedies to do this work alone, and certainly not while they are also grieving their losses. Ten years after Sandy Hook, they don’t have to.

Organizations like the News Literacy Project, where I work, are helping news consumers learn how to tell fact from fiction, identify credible sources, and actively push back against misinformation. Evidence increasingly suggests that these types of efforts can help inoculate people from being misled, which gives me hope.

We can all become news-literate and guard ourselves against conspiracy theories by understanding how they work. Be on the lookout for messages that push cynicism in institutions, connect random facts into supposedly meaningful patterns, and are impossible to prove no matter the evidence that’s presented. When you come across a strange or dark claim online, apply critical thinking and turn to a range of credible sources to help fact-check it

By practicing these skills, and encouraging others to do the same, we can create a movement in support of a more factual future. Let that also be a legacy of Sandy Hook.

Darragh Worland is the host of the News Literacy Project’s podcast, Is that a fact?, which recently released a two-part series about the Sandy Hook shooting and the conspiracy theories that followed.

Helping students lead productive conversations this holiday season and beyond

For those celebrating holidays this season, it can be a joyful time to get together with loved ones. However, navigating conversations with family and friends — especially any who have been misled by mis- and disinformation — can also be stressful.

Educators can help students develop the skills to confidently manage these situations, and understand and debunk misinformation they may encounter, using resources from the News Literacy Project in their lesson plans. Below is a curated selection of lessons, exercises and articles that can be useful to integrate into a middle or high school news and media literacy curriculum.

Start with our article and infographic “How to teach news literacy in polarizing times” for strategies on how to approach issues such as partisanship and credibility.

Assign

Educators can help students analyze the information landscape by assigning lessons through our Checkology®virtual classroom. These suggestions — just three of the platform’s 18 lessons for grades 6-12 — help students understand misinformation, spot conspiracy theories and discover the primary purpose of individual pieces of information.

Assign these and other media and news literacy lessons in just a few clicks. (It’s free!)

Supplementary Exercises

By assigning supplementary Checkology exercises, challenges and missions, educators can help improve students’ recognition of misinformation and strong evidence. (A free Checkology account is required to assign these exercises; register now.)

Read

These articles provide some basic skills for recognizing misinformation and confronting it — plus, they include helpful infographics for visual learners.

Discuss

Check out our collection of topics on Flip, packed with relevant classroom activities and discussion-starters. The topics below cover how to conduct conversations with empathy and respect, how to share information responsibly online and more. (Note: To add topics to a group, be sure to create a Flip account.)

By teaching classes how to apply critical thinking and news literacy skills in their lives, you’ll equip students with the ability to identify fact from fiction — an invaluable gift during the holiday season and beyond. A great starting point (especially if you are looking to fill shorter, end-of-semester days) is Checkology; get started today!

Ambassador Connections: Meet Deborah Domingues-Murphy, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Deborah Domingues-Murphy, library media specialist
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

1. As a NewsLitNation ambassador, you clearly are committed to news literacy education. What drives that commitment?

My grandmother was a naturalized citizen. She taught all of us from a young age to be active in our civic duties, especially when it came to voting. She participated in every election from the time she received her citizenship well into her 100s. She read up on the candidates and the issues. She had ongoing correspondence with all the presidents dating back to Eisenhower up to the Clinton administration. I want my students to want to be involved in their community, hold our elected officials accountable. To do that, they need to know what is happening and that requires them to be smart consumers of news information.

2. What is your favorite tool or tip for teaching news literacy?

I use a lot of NLP materials. Two of my “go-tos” are the RumorGuard images and Checkology. I use the RumorGuard images to see how well my students can discern the accuracy of the image. They are learning how to apply the five factors  for credibility: authenticity, source, evidence, context, reasoning. The other is Checkology, it is so adaptable. I can use lessons as part of direct instruction as well as assign a number of them to extend learning. The fact that the lessons are self-grading makes implementing it so easy.

3. These are particularly challenging times for educators. What has been your go-to de-stressor?

In my class, I try to bring in some mindfulness exercises and practices. I have set routines in my class and start each class period with 5 minutes of silence. Students have told me it is the only time in the day they don’t feel stressed out. One described it as finally breathing, not feeling like he is always holding his breath. For me personally, I also do mindfulness exercises that include guided meditation and yoga. I also do watercolors and knit.

4. Design your own student questions for an event relevant to your region.

Pennsylvania is frequently a battleground state. As a result, there is a lot of disinformation and misinformation. We are bringing the NLP PitchIt! contest to Pennsylvania. Working with the school district (Allegheny Intermediate Unit), we want to give students a platform to write an evidence-supported essay about the topics of a free press and news literacy.

5. Aside from fighting for facts, what else are you passionate about?

I never pass up on an opportunity to go to new places. I love learning about different cultures, eating local foods, seeing amazing sites.

6. Are you on team dog, team cat, team wombat?

Team dog all the way (although wombats are a close second)

Learn more about all our NewsLitNation ambassadors and check out the profiles of Amanda Escheman and K.C. Boyd.

In spring 2023, NLP will be looking for more ambassadors to join our movement. Interested? Contact  for more information.

Annual report celebrates NLP’s successes and helps chart the way forward

Today, we’re releasing our annual report, and we are proud of our achievements in classrooms around the country, in our work with the public, and in our significant progress toward a more news-literate America. The report, which covers fiscal year 2022 (July 2021-June 2022), also highlights what we’ve accomplished during our ambitious four-year strategic plan for expanding our reach and impact, which concluded in June. While challenges remain, with your ongoing support, we know we can succeed.

 Read the report here.

By Greg McCaffery and Chuck Salter

This past year, the world has contended with devastating crises that were exacerbated by the proliferation of mis- and disinformation — which further undermined democracy. Steadfast throughout these challenges were educators, journalists, students and young people — ordinary heroes who stood firm in upholding our shared democratic values, including the importance of a free press and fact-based public discourse. That’s why we are hopeful about a common future founded on facts. And you’ll see the rationale for that hope in these pages. Just consider what we’ve achieved together over the past year:

With your support, more than 16,000 educators (a 20% increase over the previous year) used any number of our free resources to serve an estimated 2.4 million students in all 50 states.

We created more content for our Checkology® virtual classroom than ever before, including a three-part science component that explores how to get data-savvy, evaluate science-based claims and identify health misinformation.

We launched a lesson on editorial cartooning that features political cartoonists explaining the importance of this form of opinion journalism. Additionally, we are developing a lesson for release in early 2023 that explores the roots of distrust of the news media and “expertise.”

We dropped a new season of our podcast Is that a fact?, where we explored the origins of false narratives and the harm they cause. And our third annual National News Literacy Week, in partnership with The E.W. Scripps Company, reached over 48 million people across the nation, encouraging them to “stop the flood” of misinformation while underscoring  the vital role of news literacy in a democracy.

We also successfully concluded our four-year strategic plan, a journey you took with us to help NLP reach national scale.

We hope in these pages you feel pride in the accomplishments we’ve made and take heart in the stories of our educators and students. Your interest in, partnership with, and championing of NLP have made our work possible. Now we set out to transform our mission into a national movement in the pursuit of a more civically engaged, information-savvy America. And we hope you will continue to stand with us as we harness your individual energy into a collective strength that ensures a more robust, equitable democracy for generations to come.

NLPeople: Ebonee Rice, senior vice president of educator engagement

Ebonee Rice, Dallas, Texas

This is part of a series that introduces you to the people of NLP.

1. Can you tell us what brought you to NLP?

NLP was the perfect marriage between my background in journalism and love for education. I was working for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in D.C. when a former colleague told me she saw a role I’d be perfect for. I applied the same day. Between my applying and getting the job, the pandemic began. I thought it was surreal to work for this cause in 2020 during the middle of the perfect storm of misinformation: the COVID-19 pandemic, a contentious election and a racial uprising following the death of George Floyd. I knew immediately I’d made the right, and most necessary, choice for such an unprecedented time.

2. How has your background as a coalition builder and community engagement expert influenced your work at NLP?

I’m proud to have spent my career working for causes I’m passionate about. I have worked with some of the best coalition builders in the country. Throughout my career, building and working directly with the community, I’ve learned that it’s important to listen to what the people want. If you pay attention, communities know what they need. My background has given me the courage to believe in the power of communities. I see value in every educator we encounter, and I am eager to co-create a future with them that we can both be happy to live in.

I’ve learned that people don’t need to be empowered. They have power. They often don’t have the resources to harness that power. That is where NLP comes in. We offer support, training, resources and a community platform that enables educators to teach the skills learners need to know. Now that is a lot of power!

What I love about my work at NLP is that I get to listen to educators and help meet their needs. We are a solution to a problem they’re facing every day. I can’t think of a better way to spend my life than building a movement of educators passionate about creating a more news-literate nation.

3. Aside from fighting for facts, what else are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about mentorship. I have been mentoring since 2013. Being a mentor is an important part of my personal ideology for a life of service. There is a lot of evidence that correlates mentoring with positive outcomes for young people. And since I’ve benefited so greatly from mentors, it’s only fitting that I extend that same opportunity to someone else. I recently traveled with a mentee to Ghana in June 2022. It was her first time in Africa. We visited several parts of the country, including the slave castles on the coast. It was one of the most memorable trips of my life, and I think the same is true for her.

4. Are you on team dog, team cat, team wombat? Or do you prefer stuffed animals to pets?

While I love cats, I’m team dog. I have a pandemic puppy named Psalm. She’s a small land shark, but we’ve braved the last year and a half together.

5. What item do you always have in your fridge?

BBQ sauce. I put it on everything.

 

 

 

More election resources to help you stay informed, not misled

We’re just a couple of weeks from Election Day. In many states, early and mail-in voting is already underway. We have created a few more resources to help you stay informed – not misled – as we enter the final stretch of election season. Be sure to check out NLP’s original Election 2022 page, where you’ll find videos, infographics and more to help you avoid election misinformation.

Infographic: Three types of election rumors to avoid

Bad actors push election disinformation designed to cause confusion and undermine confidence in American democracy. The same false claims tend to get recycled year after year, which can make them easier to spot.

We created this infographic that breaks down false “ballot mule” accusations as well as rumors about poll workers and mail-in voting. We’ve also included tools and tips for protecting yourself against these and similar bogus election claims with links to credible sources.

Download the digital version here (perfect for linking in an email or on social media).

Download the print version here (perfect for in-person discussions or teaching events ahead of the election or giving to a family member who prefers to read it on paper).

Partner blog: Prep for the U.S. midterm elections with these online tools

We’ve partnered with Mozilla to help people prepare to vote in the midterms.

“As an organization that advocates for a healthy internet, we consider online misinformation to be a huge barrier to seeing that better internet,” Mozilla writes. The post also has information about how to check your voter registration and what’s on your ballot. Read it here.

We recently curated a Pocket collection of must-reads ahead of the election. We explore what’s being done and what still needs to be addressed to ensure the integrity of our elections. Check it out here.

More expert videos: Protecting yourself from disinformation

We talked with Bret Schafer, a senior fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, about his work tracking online conversations about the election. He explained how foreign actors are interfering in the American electoral process by exploiting divisive topics to sow domestic discord.

“They’re not trying to insert something new into a conversation that Americans aren’t already talking about,” he said.

Schafer also offered tips for protecting yourself against election misinformation that spreads on social media.

“Go to multiple trusted sources, and that’s usually the best way to defend yourself,” he said.

Schafer was one of four experts we spoke to ahead of the midterms who helped us understand the common types of election misinformation to watch out for and how to protect ourselves from it.

Visit our YouTube channel to hear from experts from Factchequeado.com, the Brennan Center for Justice and Marquette University Law School.

 

 

The final weeks before Election Day can be overwhelming with political advertising at full pitch and lots of information flying around. Our resources to help you prepare to vote are always available at newslit.org/election2022.