News Literacy Project cited in high-profile FCC report

The News Literacy Project is cited as stepping into an “educational breach” in a much-anticipated government report released June 9 that focuses on the country’s rapidly evolving media environment.

The Federal Communications Commission report, The Information Needs of Communities: The changing media landscape in a broadband age, was the culmination of a project begun in December 2009 to address whether “citizens and communities are getting the reporting they want and need” and “whether public policy is in sync with modern media markets.”

It was prepared by a working group of journalists, scholars, entrepreneurs and government officials and involved interviews with hundreds of individuals and reviews of scores of studies and reports, along with public hearings and site visits.

In a section on schools that explores digital, media and news literacy, the report states that newspaper reading in high school “contributes to reading and writing development” but that using newspapers in the classroom and teaching news literacy is less prevalent than it has been historically.

“Fortunately,” the report states, “some journalism organizations and foundations associated with journalism have stepped into the educational breach. Founded by former investigative reporter Alan C. Miller, the Bethesda, Maryland-based News Literacy Project is a two-year-old national educational program that mobilizes seasoned journalists to help middle school and high school students sort fact from fiction in the digital age. In 2009 through 2010, the News Literacy Project worked with 21 teachers of English, history and government in seven middle schools and high schools in New York City, Bethesda and Chicago, reaching nearly 1,500 students. More than 75 journalists spoke to students and worked with them on projects. Among them:

• Gwen Ifill of the PBS NewsHour and Washington Week explained how she handles bias: ‘I hope you never know what I think. I’m there to provide you the information so you can decide. I have to keep open the possibility that the other guy has a point. … I have to be an honest broker.’

• Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times described how she spent the entire previous day nailing down a single name: that of the third gate-crasher at the infamous state dinner that President Barack Obama hosted for the prime minister of India at the White House in November 2009.

• Peter Eisler of USA Today discussed accountability: ‘Never trust anybody who doesn’t admit they make a mistake. Never trust anyone in life who doesn’t admit they make a mistake.’

“In one memorable presentation, Brian Rokus, a CNN producer, showed the students video excerpts from a report he did with Christiane Amanpour about the New York Philharmonic’s trip to North Korea in 2008. The students got a glimpse of a country without First Amendment protections of free speech. They saw the minders who shadowed the tightly restricted American journalists. Rokus also passed around a copy of the Pyongyang Times with its full-page paeans to the nation’s ‘Dear Leader.’ He then handed out an Associated Press report of a speech that President Obama had made to Congress and asked the students to cross out everything they would censor if they were the editor of the Pyongyang Times and Obama was the ‘Dear Leader.’”

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