News literacy op-ed article in USA Today


News literacy is crucial to sustaining a healthy democracy, according to an op-ed column co-authored by News Literacy Project executive director Alan C. Miller and published April 13, 2010, in USA Today, the nation’s largest general-circulation newspaper.

“With actual news, and items that look suspiciously like news, coming at us all day from a variety of outlets, how do we know what to trust?” asks the article, which appeared in almost 1.9 million papers distributed nationwide and on USA Today’s website.

“How do we distinguish credible information from raw information, misinformation and propaganda? And if all information is created equal, as the flattened informational landscape sometimes suggests, why would anyone seek out quality journalism — especially if we think it’s all driven by bias anyway?”

The column was written by Miller, who won the Pulitzer Prize as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and Brent Cunningham, managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review.

They note that the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan, released March 17, offers an important opportunity to increase the availability of news-literacy education to millions of students. The plan, authorized in the $787 billion stimulus package last year, calls for extending high-speed Internet access to the entire country.

Their column cites recent research that supports the need for news literacy education for students:

  • A survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 70 percent of respondents feel overwhelmed by the amount of news and information from different sources, and 72 percent think most sources of news are biased.
  • A study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8- to 18-year-olds spend an average of 7 hours, 38 minutes each day on entertainment media. It also found that “use of every type of media has increased over the past 10 years, with the exception of reading” — and reading, of course, includes newspapers and magazines.
  • A 2007 study by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government found that many American teens and young adults are “ill-equipped to process the hard news stories they encounter.”

“The nascent news-literacy movement has begun to address this with two projects — the Center for News Literacy and a news literacy course at Long Island’s Stony Brook University and the News Literacy Project, which is in seven middle schools and high schools in New York City, Bethesda, Md., and Chicago — that are giving students the skills and the motivation to judge the reliability and credibility of news in all its forms,” the article says.

“Sustaining serious journalism in the digital age is a topic of considerable discussion and experimentation, most of which focuses on the product itself — the supply side of the information equation. But there will be no solution without demand from a citizenry that understands and values quality journalism.”

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