NLP launches News Literacy Ambassador Program

If 2020 has made anything clear, it’s that the future of our democracy depends on our collective ability to sort fact from fiction — and teaching students news literacy skills is crucial to this. To build our local footprint through community organizing efforts in the fight against misinformation, we have launched a News Literacy Ambassador Program.

Through this regional model for news literacy education, we can create a sense of belonging and community among educators. We know that if this movement is to be successful, it must be inclusive and local. These paid local organizers serve as our thought leadership partners, helping to identify the unique needs of educators in their school districts. These efforts will further help to combat misinformation and create a more news-literate generation of news consumers.

Thanks to news literacy leaders like you we have been able to make significant achievements during this challenging year. With our News Literacy Ambassador Program, we can do even more.

We welcome the following group of ambassadors:


 

Annual report: NLP meets challenges, expands mission

This week, we're releasing our annual report for fiscal year 2020 (July 2019-June 2020). It presents results of our work as we expanded our mission to reach not just students and educators but also the public. It also covers a time of great challenges for all of us. We believe that it reflects significant progress during the past year, and great promise for the future.

By Greg McCaffery and Alan C. Miller

Our world has been shaken and transformed since we shared our first annual report with you. In fact, it often feels like last fall was a decade ago.

Read the report here.

We’re proud to say that NLP has responded to the myriad challenges wrought by COVID-19 with resourcefulness and determination. As a result, with the second year of our four-year strategic plan completed, we marked numerous important gains.

During the 2019-20 school year we brought news literacy education to 702 educators and 33,894 students through our Checkology® virtual classroom. The student assessments conducted at the end of the school year prove that Checkology works. Far more students were able to recognize the standards of quality journalism and to understand the watchdog role of a free press and the First Amendment in a democracy.

The pandemic and the accompanying “infodemic” — an overabundance of information, including misinformation — inspired us to step up in new and innovative ways.

A rapid, robust response

In March, in response to schools nationwide transitioning to remote teaching, we decided to provide Checkology at no cost to educators and parents engaged in distance learning or homeschooling. In addition, we created a special page on our website with reliable information about COVID-19, used our weekly newsletter The Sift® to debunk misinformation about the virus, and developed two educational webinar series that drew 1,768 participants.

We knew we had to invest in additional resources to provide a growing number of educators with the support they needed to teach news literacy. We created an educator outreach and success team to respond to our educators and to help them succeed, providing support to implement Checkology and promoting the platform to school districts. And we also brought Ebonee Rice, a community engagement expert, on board to create and mobilize a nationwide network of 20,000 educators committed to news literacy.

Amid a perfect storm of misinformation and disinformation from the pandemic, the protests for racial justice and the 2020 elections, we moved to expand our mission to include you. Our free resources are now available to meet the urgent need for news literacy among people of all ages, and to help everyone become savvier consumers of news and information.

We hope that as you read this annual report, including a special section on the start of this new fiscal year, you will recognize your contributions in making these accomplishments possible.

Thank you for your ongoing support and for helping to preserve a future founded on facts.

From the Sift®: Understanding misinformation in the wake of the election

Misinformation and conspiracy theories thrive when curiosity and controversy are widespread and conclusive information is scarce or unavailable. The deeply polarized 2020 presidential election not only produced these conditions, it sustained them as ballots in a number of swing states with narrow vote margins were adjudicated and carefully counted.

To be sure, viral rumors swirled in the aftermath of Election Day. People who had been primed by partisan rhetoric to expect voter fraud leaned into their own biases. They misinterpreted isolated moments on livestreams of the ballot counting process in counties in several swing states, mistakenly saw “evidence” of rogue ballots being delivered in vague video clips, and were exploited by bad actors who readily circulated staged, manipulated and out-of-context content designed to mislead.

But the impact of these falsehoods was blunted by the work of professional fact-checkers, disinformation researchers and standards-based news organizations — and by social media platforms, which improved their content moderation efforts for the election. Facebook and Twitter took more effective actions against misinformation than either had previously. (However, Twitter indicated that with the election over, it would stop using warning labels on false or misleading tweets about the election outcome but continue its use of labels that provide additional context.) YouTube was more lax, allowing videos containing false claims about the election — including those that it acknowledged undermine trust in the democratic process — to remain live but without ads.

The days of uncertainty sparked isolated protests and some arrests, including two armed Virginia men. But for all the unresolved questions and still-rampant falsehoods, it seems, at least so far, that the worst-case scenarios were averted, even in an otherwise historic election with record turnout.

Related:

Note: Misinterpreting videos of the vote counting process at locations across the country is a textbook example of confirmation bias.

Upon Reflection: ‘Kind of a miracle,’ kind of a mess and the case for election reform

Note: This column is a periodic series of personal reflections on journalism, news literacy, education and related topics by  NLP’s founder and CEO Alan C. Miller. Columns will be posted here at 10 a.m. ET every other Thursday. It will not be published on Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving). It will resume on Dec. 3.

Amid the chaos and controversy that has marred this post-election period, let’s take a moment to celebrate some things that went indisputably right in our recent rite of democracy:

  • During a devastating pandemic, more than 152 million Americans voted. This is a record and represents at least 64.4 percent of the voting-age population — which makes it the highest participation rate since at least 1908, when 65.4 percent of eligible voters cast ballots and Theodore Roosevelt was reelected president.
  • Despite embarrassing breakdowns and delays in various states during primaries, the process on Election Day went remarkably smoothly nationwide.
  • Fears of cyber-interference by Russia or others failed to materialize. The same was true of widespread voter harassment, voter intimidation or violence at polling places.

“This election was kind of a miracle,” Lawrence Norden, the director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said in an interview. “We had huge turnout during a pandemic and there really weren’t the kind of problems that we had in the past.”

“Voters were the heroes,” said Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. They made good use “of all opportunities to access the ballot.”

There were other civic heroes, too: the thousands of Americans who painstakingly counted ballots, many working long hours under intense scrutiny against the backdrop of sporadic protests and an escalating pandemic.

Of course, this success has been overshadowed by the excruciating counting of enough votes in a handful of battleground states to declare Joe Biden president-elect and by Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that, absent widespread voter fraud, he would have won a second term.

While Trump’s refusal to concede is extraordinary, the election process itself is playing out in constitutionally mandated ways. Votes continue to be counted, as states typically have two to three weeks after Election Day to certify their totals. Courts are hearing lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign in several states. (This year the deadline for lawsuit resolution and vote certification is Dec. 8 — six days before the Electoral College meets, as required by federal law.) Recounts, which are customary in extremely close contests, are expected in a few states, though they typically result in changes too marginal to reverse outcomes. On Nov. 10, The New York Times reported that election officials of both parties nationwide said they had seen “no evidence that fraud or other irregularities played a role in the outcome of the presidential race.”

Votes, like facts, are stubborn things.

The unfolding national civics lesson has underscored the reality that the patchwork nature of our decentralized election system causes confusion and sows the seeds for disinformation. Each state decides how, when and where voters can cast their ballots; whether technical mistakes by voters (such as forgetting to sign an envelope or submitting a signature that doesn’t match the one in the voter database) can be “cured” (or fixed); and when mail-in ballots can begin to be counted.

The most striking — and damaging — disparity involves the counting of mail-in votes. As it became clear that a record number of Americans (more than 65 million) would go this route in response to COVID-19, a number of states changed their laws to avoid long delays in determining the results by enabling “pre-canvassing” (opening and organizing ballots for processing) days, or even weeks, before Election Day. Some states permit these ballots to be counted when they are received (one is Florida, which permits counting as early as 40 days before Election Day).

As the president insisted for months, without evidence, that the growing number of mail-in ballots would invite fraud, Republican-controlled legislatures in three battleground states declined to make significant changes in their timetables for counting them. Michigan revised its law to permit counting in some jurisdictions to begin only the day before Election Day; Wisconsin and Pennsylvania refused to permit counting until Election Day itself.

Gene DiGirolamo, a Republican commissioner in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, warned in September that without pre-canvassing, “we’ll be forced to contend with a man-made disaster — one that easily could be avoided.”

Sure enough, Pennsylvania, with its crucial 20 electoral votes, experienced a tsunami of mail-in votes. Because no work on those ballots could begin until the polls closed, it wasn’t until Nov. 7 — four drama-filled days later — that the networks and The Associated Press had sufficient data to call the state for Biden. Moreover, since far more Republicans voted at the polls and far more Democrats voted by mail, Trump predictably jumped out to a wide early lead, only to see Biden close in day by day until overtaking him.

This shifting public tabulation opened the door to the perception (and claims by Trump and his allies) that something nefarious was afoot — that votes mailed before Election Day were being cast afterward, or that votes were suddenly being “found” or that a conspiracy was underway to “steal” the election. This took hold among Trump supporters even as poll watchers from both parties observed the counting and Republican officials, both state and local, in Pennsylvania, Georgia and elsewhere vouched for the integrity of the process and the validity of the outcomes.

The result was corrosive — and it threatens to undermine Biden’s legitimacy with a large segment of the electorate. A Politico/Morning Consult survey conducted Nov. 6-9 found that 70 percent of Republicans said the election was “definitely” or “probably” not free and fair, primarily due to their belief that there was widespread fraud in mail-in voting. By contrast, 90 percent of Democrats said the election was free and fair.

The Constitution’s Elections Clause, which describes the rules for elections to the Senate and the House of Representatives, allows states to set their own regulations for congressional elections but gives Congress the authority to “make or alter” those regulations as necessary.  Given the current changes in voting patterns and advances in technology, Congress may consider setting uniform national rules for processing and counting mail-in ballots, permitting early voting, setting the deadline for receiving ballots, and ensuring the ability to “cure” ballots that have technical errors. Congress could also provide funds to upgrade aging voting machines and improve the infrastructure for mail-in voting.

“Other democracies have figured out how to count all of the votes without distorting the results, frightening their voters or sowing discord,” Stephen I. Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, wrote in a Nov. 8 opinion column for The New York Times. “If the last week has taught us anything, it’s that the United States should do the same.”

Alan Miller: Don’t fall for falsehoods while votes are counted

Alan C. Miller, founder and CEO of the News Literacy Project, issued the following statement about the outcome of the election:

“The voters have spoken, and now it’s up to our state election officials to fairly count all the votes. As key states methodically complete the process of tallying their ballots, it’s vital that we do not let misinformation fill the void while we await the final count.

“We urge the news media, state officials and the general public to refrain from spreading or amplifying false or unverified information. In a contested election, facts matter more than ever. We must unite in support of a fair and transparent vote-counting process and rely on information from trusted and reliable news sources so that we have an accurate understanding of the process and ensure its validity.

“The news media must share only verified information and be transparent about what it knows and what it does not so that all Americans can be confident in its reporting as well as in the legitimacy of the election results.

“Ultimately, we believe every legal vote should be counted, and the result should determine how states award their presidential electors. As part of our mission to make all Americans more news-literate, we help to give students and the public the skills to become equal and engaged participants in a democracy. We hope that the election process will reward that engagement in 2020 with a full, fair and accurate tally.”

Upon Reflection: High stakes for calling the election

Note: This is the third in a periodic series of personal reflections on journalism, news literacy, education and related topics by  NLP’s founder and CEO Alan C. Miller. Columns will be posted here at 10 a.m. ET every other Thursday. 

As Election Day nears, Democrats are haunted by the media-driven sense of inevitability that Hillary Clinton was headed to a historic victory four years ago — until she wasn’t.

Voters may also recall television networks declaring Al Gore the winner in the battleground state of Florida in 2000 — only to rescind that call hours later. The next day, the networks prematurely called George W. Bush the winner — only to see the subsequent recount of Florida ballots stretch 37 days, until it was resolved in Bush’s favor by the Supreme Court.

This year, the landscape is far more complex and combustible than it was during those two hotly contested races. This is a watershed moment for American journalism — and particularly for the networks and The Associated Press, which also calls election outcomes. The stakes for democracy are sky-high.

In the face of commercial and competitive forces, it is imperative that anchors, reporters, producers, editors and news executives exercise restraint, precision and care with any results they project and races they call, and that they are open about their process for doing so. They need to provide contextual reporting and analysis, explaining that delay does not necessarily signal dysfunction and careful counting does not automatically suggest corruption. And they must prepare the public for a more protracted — yet constitutional — process for determining the outcome of this contest.

America is now far more polarized than it was in 2016, when Donald Trump lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College. Trust in institutions, including the news media, has declined. The country is restive amid a devastating pandemic, protests for racial justice and the growing power of baseless conspiracy theories.

Two factors could make projecting and counting this year’s balloting more challenging: historically high voter turnout and a record number of mail-in votes that, for the first time, may outnumber those cast in person. They also increase the prospect that the winner will not be known on Nov. 3.

Moreover, both parties have expressed doubts about the legitimacy of the process: Trump has repeated baseless charges that mail-in voting opens the door to widespread fraud, which his opponents say is intended to sow doubt if the president is declared the loser or faces that prospect when all the votes are counted. Democrats have expressed concerns about voter suppression and intimidation. Both issues are likely to be highly charged currents in the election narrative.

In preparing this column, I asked CNN, Fox News, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News and The Associated Press what they are doing differently this year. (Only CNN failed to respond.)

They said they are training, going through drills and preparing for myriad contingencies. They vowed to be deliberative, restrained and transparent about projecting and calling races. Some said they have expanded their teams and plan to tap more reporters on the ground in key states and more experts on American history, election law and constitutional law. Others promised new video walls, data visualization tools and augmented reality to help voters better understand the process.

In the aftermath of the 2016 embarrassment, at least some have upgraded their process for projecting results.

Two years ago, recognizing that voting patterns have changed, Fox News and The Associated Press collaborated with NORC — an independent research center at the University of Chicago — on a survey that Fox News calls Voter Analysis and the AP calls VoteCast. NORC describes it as “a probability-based state-by-state survey of registered voters combined with a large opt-in survey of Americans conducted online.” Fox says that this year, it will interview 100,000 voters and non-voters prior to, and on, Election Day; the AP says the sample size is “more than six times the size of the legacy exit poll.”

NBC News, which shares its data with MSNBC, says it will also rely on information from interviews with more than 100,000 voters that began on Oct. 13. It has expanded both its in-person early exit polls and its phone polling this year. CBS News says that it, too, will have surveyed 100,000 people from all 50 states by election night.

I recommend paying special attention to Fox News and the AP on election night. Given its influential and supportive coverage of Trump, particularly by its evening opinion hosts, Fox could play an outsize role. The Fox News decision desk, led by Arnon Mishkin, is widely respected for its professionalism and independence.

(You may recall the unusual scene on election night in 2012 when Mishkin stood his ground when GOP strategist Karl Rove insisted, on air, that Mishkin had called Ohio — and thereby the presidential race — too soon for President Obama.)

In its statement to me, Fox News described “the integrity of our Decision Desk” as “rock solid. We will call this presidential election carefully and accurately, relying on data and numbers.”

The AP is continuing its historic practice of not projecting winners; instead, it announces them only when it has determined there is no way for the trailing candidate to catch up. Notably, the wire service did not call Trump’s victory until 2:29 a.m. on election night in 2016 and did not call the race for either Gore or Bush in 2000 (or call a winner on election night in 2004 and 2012).

Lacking sufficient tallies and other information to declare an unofficial winner on election night, the networks will need to remind viewers that each state has deadlines for certifying their vote (typically two to three weeks after Election Day) and they have until Dec. 8 to settle post-election legal challenges. In addition, 21 states and the District of Columbia have automatic recounts if the margin of victory is below a certain number or percentage or if there is a tie.

“The networks are extremely aware of the many problems they might be confronting,” Jeff Greenfield, a longtime broadcast journalist and media analyst, told me. “Nobody in the media has any interest in throwing gasoline on a fire.”

For democracy’s sake, let’s hope he’s right.

Upon Reflection: In praise of investigative reporting

Note: This is the second in a periodic series of personal reflections on journalism, news literacy, education and related topics by  NLP’s founder and CEO Alan C. Miller. Columns will be posted here at 10 a.m. ET every other Thursday. 

As news reports go, The New York Times’ lead story on Sept. 27 was a blockbuster: Donald Trump paid only $750 in federal income tax the year he won the presidency, $750 in federal income tax his first year in office, and “no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.”

I admired the way that Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire were able to make these assertions. The Times didn’t even feel the need to provide any attribution for those stunning findings in the story’s opening paragraphs.

That’s because this reporting was based on a trove of tax-return data for Trump and his companies that extended over more than two decades, as well as on other financial documents, legal filings and dozens of interviews. The three reporters, who collectively have decades of experience in unraveling complex financial and political dealings, have been investigating Trump’s finances for nearly four years.

Their efforts culminated in a classic piece of investigative journalism. It broke significant new ground on a subject of enormous public interest with authoritative, compelling and contextual reporting. It did not ask for the reader’s trust; instead, it earned it with detailed documentation. It pulled no punches in sharing its evidence-based findings — while also explaining what remains unknown about Trump’s assets.

The response was telling. A lawyer for the Trump Organization told the Times that the story was “inaccurate” but did not cite specifics. Trump called the report “fake news,” again without citing specific errors. In investigative journalism circles, this is called “a non-denial denial.”

I have a special appreciation for what it takes to do this kind of work. For most of my 29-year newspaper career, I was an investigative reporter. I considered it journalism’s highest calling. In some ways, even as newspapers fold and the number of journalists drops in the face of economic contraction, we are in a new golden age of investigative reporting. Yet amid all the attacks on journalism and the public’s declining trust in it, I believe that most people do not truly understand what it takes to do this work well — and the stakes and standards that lie at the heart of it.

In theory, all reporters should have the ability to do investigative work. Indeed, some of the most iconic investigations have arisen from resourceful beat reporting. But those who devote themselves exclusively to this kind of work — for instance, the members of Investigative Reporters & Editors — are often a different breed who march to a different beat.

They focus principally on corruption, waste, fraud, dishonesty and abuse, whether of human rights or of public trust. They tend to take longer and dig deeper, obtaining records (often through federal or state freedom of information requests), developing a network of inside and expert sources, and thoroughly mastering the subject at hand. Their work typically must endure a multi-layer editing process, often including a review by their publication’s lawyers.

Investigative reporters tend to regard whoever wields power as their primary target. Their north star is impact — to make a difference.

To succeed, their work must be beyond reproach. Most investigations contain hundreds of facts on which findings are based. The subject of such a report will look for any factual error, however inconsequential, to try to undermine the story’s credibility (“If they can’t get even that right, why would you trust their conclusions?”). The threat of a lawsuit, even prior to publication, may hang overhead as well.

In December 2002, following months of reporting, the Los Angeles Times published “The Vertical Vision,” a four-part series on the Marine Corps’ aviation program. My colleague Kevin Sack and I detailed how the Harrier jump jet, the first aircraft the Marines could call their own, had killed 45 pilots — including some of the Corps’ best — in 143 noncombat accidents since 1971, making it the most dangerous aircraft in the U.S. military for decades. We demonstrated that this was the first of three Marine aircraft that would prove to be deeply troubled, painting a portrait of an aviation program whose high cost in blood and treasure was not redeemed on the battlefield.

In our determination to be both fair and accurate, we took the unusual step of reading, word by word, a draft of the series to Marine Corps public affairs officials. In turn, as publication began, the Marines sent supporters a detailed description of what to expect and told them that if they could find any mistakes, however small, the Corps would pounce on those errors to discredit the entire report. (They found nothing. The series led to a congressional hearing and was awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.)

Investigative reporters must resist a particular kind of confirmation bias: falling in love with the story, or with the thesis behind an investigation. The best reporters follow where the evidence leads, rather than seeking documentation to support a desired conclusion. Failing to do so has consequences, as I discovered in my first journalism job at the Times Union in Albany, New York.

I made a critical mistake on an investigative piece about the city’s Democratic machine when I saw and reported what I expected — and, yes, hoped — to see in a legal document. “Always guard against your own assumptions,” my editor, Harry Rosenfeld, admonished me. (His words held special sway since he had been Bob Woodward’s and Carl Bernstein’s boss at The Washington Post during the Watergate investigation.) That — plus the ensuing Page One correction — proved a powerful lesson for an ambitious young reporter.

(This fealty to accuracy, as well as to accountability in the face of factual errors, stands in stark contrast to other types of content that masquerade as journalism — such as conspiracy theories, whose web of alleged insider information, sinister plots and Byzantine clues can take on the aura of reportorial revelation. But these delusions, which require their followers to suspend belief in reality, fall apart under scrutiny because they cannot be independently documented by credible sources.)

The high expectations placed on investigative reporters also put them under considerable pressure. Producing a series — or even a single story —  can take weeks or months, and that time is costly (especially amid tightening budgets). Sources can mislead. Tips don’t always pan out. And a newly discovered fact or document may undo those weeks or months of work by disproving or complicating an investigation’s underlying premise.

Yet overcoming such challenges makes the payoff all the more gratifying: landing an investigation that reveals wrongdoing, prompts public scrutiny, leads to reforms and has meaningful impact.

In early 2003, two months after our Harrier series appeared, a Marine Corps pilot stationed in Kuwait said this to a Los Angeles Times colleague: “Tell Alan Miller that he got it right.” As a result, he added, “Lives will be saved.”

Understanding COVID-19 data: Examining data behind racial disparities

This piece is part of a series, presented by our partner SAS, that explores the role of data in understanding the COVID-19 pandemic. SAS is a pioneer in the data management and analytics field. (Check out other posts in the series on our Get Smart About COVID-19 Misinformation page.)

by Mary Osborne

Are communities of color at greater risk for COVID-19? The question of COVID-19 racial disparities has circulated across media outlets since the start of the pandemic. Science tells us that viruses do not target individuals by race or ethnicity, and yet, this novel virus significantly impacts communities of color in disproportionate ways.

To understand why communities of color are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, we must look beyond race alone and consider other risk factors that may draw dividing lines. By examining why certain populations are more severely impacted than others, we can begin to identify the underlying causes. To do that, we have to look at the data. Although the data is limited within many communities of color, there is enough to better understand the impact of COVID-19 in certain communities.

Data has demonstrated how a person’s age or underlying medical conditions can be the difference between surviving COVID-19 or succumbing to it. But are there other risk factors to be considered and could any of those factors be tied to racial inequalities?

Population, race and COVID-19

It’s no secret that minority populations have been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, often at rates that are disproportionate to those of white people. The Black Non-Hispanic population has been hit particularly hard. While they represent 13% of the population in the United States, Black Non-Hispanics comprise over 22% of COVID-19-related deaths.

The disparities in cases and deaths by race vary from state to state, driven by percentages of population. However, a negative trend has emerged in one of the nation’s smallest populations — the American Indian/Alaska Native Non-Hispanic (AI/AN) group. AI/AN people make up around 1.5% of the U.S. population but have experienced almost 1% of total COVID-19 deaths. Let’s read that again: 1% of total COVID-19 deaths are attributed to the AI/AN population, which is enormous considering that this community is such a small percentage of the total population.

Percentage of population and percentage of COVID-19 deaths by race/ethnicity

Source: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that the AI/AN population has a case rate that is 2.8 times higher than the White population, a death rate that is 1.4 times higher than the White population, and a hospitalization rate that is 5.3 times higher than the White population. The hospitalization rate is higher for this population than any other population in the U.S.

Percent of COVID deaths and percentage of population of American Indian/Alaska Native, Non-Hispanic population

Source: US Centers for Disease Control

Secondary risk factors and healthcare access

Yet, the COVID-19 numbers we see in the AI/AN population aren’t dissimilar to those seen in other communities of color. This is likely because they may share risk factors with other minority populations. Similar to members of the Black and Hispanic populations, many Native American families live in close quarters — sharing their homes with more than one generation or extended family. That is partially unique to the AI/AN population because housing on reservation lands is limited, and an increase in the Native American population in the last decade has put a strain on housing resources. These types of living arrangements pose a higher risk of spreading diseases like COVID-19.

Within the AI/AN population, diabetes, obesity and hypertension have emerged as factors that increase risk of severe COVID-19 disease and the need for hospitalization. According to the American Diabetes Association, this disease is more prevalent in the AI/AN population than in any other racial or ethnic group. And AI/AN people are 50 percent more likely to suffer from obesity than Non-Hispanic white people. Hypertension is also common in this population, especially among people with diabetes.

Diabetes rate by race

Source: American Diabetes Association

Economic impacts

The long-term economic impacts from the virus also are disconcerting. AI/AN people have the highest poverty rates of any other U.S. racial ethnic group. Sociologist Beth Redbird from the Institute for Policy Research has found unemployment to be the most significant factor driving poverty in Native American populations. Given the current uncertainty with job markets and employment, an improvement in poverty rates is unlikely.

Poverty by Race

Source: U.S. Census Bureau/American Community Survey

Access to healthcare is another factor to consider. In some cases members of the AI/AN communities drive an hour or more to reach a medical provider. This is further complicated by a lack of transportation on most reservations. The Indian Health Service (IHS) is underfunded and lacks medical providers, equipment and facilities to handle critical patients. It runs 24 hospitals, which have fewer than 71 ventilators and just 33 ICU beds.

So, are there COVID-19 racial disparities?

We know that the color of one’s skin doesn’t make a person more susceptible to COVID-19. But what we’ve seen from the data is that AI/AN communities are disproportionately affected because of other contributing factors. These same factors amplify the risk of COVID-19 among all communities of color.

This pattern of impact isn’t unique to COVID-19 — other diseases behave in much the same way. Instead, COVID-19 has placed a necessary spotlight on these issues because of its devastating effects. The data reaffirms that more research is needed —regarding inequality of healthcare access and how certain populations are affected by viruses like COVID-19. We need to increase society’s diligence to understand and address the unbalanced systems affecting communities of color. While the AI/AN population is often overlooked because of its small numbers, statistical insignificance doesn’t mean members of these communities are insignificant.

Other articles in this series:

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Early news literacy ‘lessons’ benefit Washington Post reporter

When Shane Harris, an intelligence and national security reporter at The Washington Post, was in fourth grade in the mid-1980s, he received an informal introduction to news literacy.

As part of his language arts and English class, Harris and his classmates spent a week learning how to read the newspaper. They started with the front page, as the teacher explained how stories placed there were likely the most important of the day. Then they turned to the opinion pages, learning the difference between columns and news stories.

“That is basic news literacy,” Harris said recently, “and it kind of informed a lot of my behavior as a news consumer ever since.”

Harris has reported about intelligence and national security for two decades and is the author of two books: The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State and @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex.  He’s also a firm believer in news literacy as a solution to today’s convoluted information landscape. So Harris quickly jumped on board when the Post’s executive editor, Marty Baron, told the newsroom  about the News Literacy Project’s Newsroom to Classroom program , which connects journalists with students.

“I was just really pleased that as an institution, we were encouraging our reporters to go talk to young people about how to read the news and how to be smarter consumers about it,” Harris said.

Connecting Washington Post, classroom

Once he signed up, Harris, who lives in Washington, D.C., connected with Cade Elkins, a high school teacher in Huntington, West Virginia. Initially, the session was going to take place over Skype with Elkins’ students in the room to ask questions of the journalist. But then COVID-19 hit and the school went remote. Elkins solicited questions from his students and presented them to Harris during an insightful, hour-long video conversation.

You can watch it here.

Shane Harris, Washington Post reporterHarris was not surprised that the students asked pointed questions. He said he always enjoys speaking with young people, because they think of topics he’s not normally asked in everyday conversations about his job.

“They tend to ask like really frank questions that oftentimes go to just core basic issues about what we do, how we do what we do,” Harris said. “And I was also really impressed that they were clearly discerning. They had skeptical questions, too, about how we report and what they read and what they see.”

Elkins and Harris talked at length about an issue that Harris sees as critically important to having an informed public that trusts standards-based reporting — demonstrating how quality journalism is done.

Lifting the curtain on journalism

“I think that sometimes we hide behind the mystique of what we do to kind of convey some level of authority to it of, ‘Just trust us, we’re professionals,’” Harris said. “Well, you know, to a degree, yes, we’re professionals, but that doesn’t mean we’re above explaining how we do things to people.”

That’s a big part of what the Newsroom to Classroom program — and our NewsLitCamp® — are all about. If students have a better understanding of how reporting works and that a story doesn’t start and end in a day but develops over time, Harris noted, they will be more likely to trust good reporting and believe in its importance.

Journalists also can gain trust by helping students — and the general public —  understand that they are doing their jobs to inform readers and are not insiders armed with special information that they choose to disclose based on personal motivations.

“I think the more that we can convey to people that what we do is a job and that we’re moving through the world just like everybody else, it makes it seem, I hope, that what we’re doing is more trustworthy and certainly more transparent,” Harris said.

News literacy a must

In high school, Harris’ favorite class was civics. He loved learning about government. But a lack of civics knowledge and education is a problem in the U.S. Almost half of adults questioned about civics couldn’t name all three branches of the government, according to the 2020 Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey. Given that reality and the immensely challenging information landscape, Harris thinks news literacy is a must for students and the public.

“We’re talking about basic tools that you have to equip people with not just to be good citizens participating in a democracy, but to ensure that they’re not exploited and they’re not taken advantage of,” he said. “I feel really strongly that news literacy is an important part of that kind of curriculum.”

The Newsroom to Classroom program is part of the solution.

If you are a teacher signed up for Checkology®, reach out to a journalist in the directory. If you are a reporter interested in talking about your profession to students, learn more about the program here.

Upon Reflection: How to spot and avoid spreading fake news

Cartoonist Walt Kelly coined the phrase "we have met the enemy and he is us" for an anti-pollution Earth Day poster in 1970 and used it again in an Earth Day cartoon in 1971. In the accompanying illustration, we’ve taken the liberty to apply it to today’s online pollution.

Cartoonist Walt Kelly coined the phrase “we have met the enemy and he is us” for an anti-pollution Earth Day poster in 1970 and used it again in an Earth Day cartoon in 1971. In the accompanying illustration, we’ve taken the liberty to apply it to today’s online pollution.

Note: This is the first in a periodic series of personal reflections on journalism, news literacy, education and related topics by  NLP’s founder and CEO Alan C. Miller. Columns will be posted here at 10 a.m. ET every other Thursday. This initial piece was published in the Chicago Tribune on Sept. 28:

It’s time that we recognize one of the great challenges confronting our democracy: We are at an inflection point where facts may no longer continue to matter.

The notion of “alternative facts” is no longer so far-fetched. Emotions and opinions threaten to supplant evidence, and conspiracy theories and viral rumors can overwhelm reason. This is especially pernicious on social media — today’s no-holds-barred public square.

The corrosive threat of misinformation permeates every aspect of our civic life. It undercuts our ability to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19. It undermines trust in the news media and in our democratic institutions — and, in particular, the right of citizens to cast their ballots.

Indeed, with Election Day on Nov. 3 fast approaching, we’re being deluged with news reports, opinion columns and commentary, social media posts, images, videos and other communications about candidates, campaigns and the act of voting itself. But we don’t need to wait for the ballots to be counted to make one call: Much of what we’re reading, watching and hearing is not intended to inform us, or even persuade us. Instead, it’s created to misinform us, inflame us and divide us.

For the entire piece, please see Commentary: How to spot and avoid spreading fake news.

Free news literacy resources for the public

Since 2008, NLP has helped students across the U.S. and beyond learn to sort fact from fiction. Now, to meet the urgent need for news literacy among people of all ages, we are unveiling free tools and resources for the public. This includes a customized version of our signature e-learning platform, Checkology®.

This expansion of our mission comes in response to the growing crisis of false information in America.

“We believe misinformation and a lack of news literacy skills and knowledge pose an existential threat to our democracy,” said Alan C. Miller, NLP’s founder and CEO. “We recognize the critical need for people of all ages to have the ability to determine what news and information to trust and to understand the importance of a free press as informed and engaged participants in a democracy.”

News literacy lessons for all

We have developed a version of Checkology that provides the public with a comprehensive news literacy program. And it is now available at no cost. Launched in 2016, Checkology is widely used by educators to teach middle and high school students news literacy skills, habits and mindset.

This new public version includes foundational lessons, supplemental practice opportunities and fact-checking tools for reverse image searches, geolocation and more. In addition, it teaches users how to identify credible information, seek out reliable sources, understand media bias — as well as their own. It also helps users learn to apply critical thinking skills to differentiate fact-based content from falsehoods. And users gain an understanding of the importance of the First Amendment and the watchdog role of a free press.

Learn more by watching our video:

New podcast

And today, we launched the podcast Is that a fact?, featuring experts who address the question, “How can American democracy survive and thrive in our toxic information environment?” The first episode, featuring writer and professor Brendan Nyhan of Bright Line Watch, is available on our website and on various podcast platforms. Upcoming guests include Kara Swisher of Recode and The New York Times, Maria Ressa of Rappler and Michael Luo of The New Yorker.

The 10-episode season is hosted by Darragh Worland, NLP’s vice president of creative services. The show will include conversations with leading American thinkers, journalists, foreign policy experts, psychologists and authors. It will seek to help listeners understand how they can become part of the solution to the misinformation crisis. Future segments  will drop every Wednesday.

Additional resources

Also, starting Tuesday, Sept. 22, we will publish a free weekly newsletter for the public called Get Smart About News. This publication is adapted from our popular free newsletter for educators, The Sift®. It will highlight and debunk timely examples of the most widespread conspiracy theories, hoaxes and rumors. Readers will find tips and tools to help navigate today’s complex information landscape. Get Smart About News will arrive in subscribers’ inboxes every Tuesday.

Finally, in 2019, we launched a free mobile app Informable®. Updated in 2020 to address COVID-19 misinformation, Informable helps people of all ages practice four distinct news literacy skills in a game-like format using real-world examples.

PSAs to help voters learn to navigate election misinformation

NLP and The Open Mind Legacy Project (OMLP) released public service announcements today to educate voters on how to avoid being misinformed about the November elections. Comcast, The E.W. Scripps Company and public media stations will air the video and audio PSAs, which also will be featured in a paid and organic digital ad campaign on social media and other streaming platforms.

As the election approaches, misinformation and disinformation about the voting process by both domestic and foreign sources have the potential to undermine the democratic process. U.S. intelligence officials have issued warnings that other countries are already using such tactics to sow confusion and interfere in the election.

The initiative aims to prevent voters from being misled by false information, such as being told that they can vote by text or by phone, that the election is canceled or that polling places are closed or have been moved.

PSAs in English and Spanish

The PSAs include four 30-second and two 15-second videos in English and Spanish, as well as audio versions of the spots. They will debunk myths about voting, address the need for voters to break out of their filter bubbles and advise them to verify facts before sharing social media posts. The PSAs will drive viewers to a special webpage created to help the public understand how misinformation can influence elections. The page will include real-time examples of falsehoods, free resources for the public, blog posts with tips on understanding election-related data, downloadable graphics that show people how to identify misinformation, and quizzes and other tools to help build news literacy skills in the weeks leading up to the election.

The PSA campaign will focus on communities targeted in previous election-related misinformation campaigns that remain vulnerable to voter suppression tactics, including Black and Latinx populations. The effort is expected to reach millions of Americans.

You can watch and listen to the spots here. Anyone interested in airing them can download them or contact NLP for more information at www.newslit.org.

About The Open Mind Legacy Project

The Open Mind Legacy Project, a civic education and media nonprofit, produces The Open Mind, a weekly public affairs broadcast and daily podcast, supporting fact-based discourse, deliberative democracy and engagement of ideas.