NLPeople: Pam Brunskill, senior manager of education design
This is part of a series that introduces you to the people of NLP.
Buffalo, New York
1. Can you tell us what led you to the news literacy movement?
In 2016, I was getting most of my news from Facebook, and I didn’t fully appreciate the impact of that decision until the aftermath of the presidential election. That’s when I realized I was getting different information than some of my friends and family, as well as some untrustworthy information. While I intrinsically realized that social media’s algorithms led to echo chambers and was scattered with misinformation and disinformation, I didn’t yet know how to navigate this digital landscape well. So, I started to actively seek out credible information about social media and news consumption, and through a freelancing job stumbled upon the News Literacy Project. This was the first step in a journey of taking control of my media diet and starting to recognize standards of quality journalism. The more I learned, the more I wanted to be a part of this movement full time.
2. Since joining NLP, what has been the most satisfying or surprising experience?
My colleagues are some of the most competent, supportive and thoughtful people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. While the work we do here is meaningful, the people make the work enjoyable. Being valued and doing something of value is the most satisfying experience.
3. What news literacy tip, tool or guidance do you most often use?
Control-F is probably the tool I use most often, as it helps me find what I’m looking for quickly in web pages (and documents). I lived an embarrassing number of years without knowing hitting Control + F at the same time allows one to search for a specific word or phrase. I used to skim articles and it would take an inordinate amount of time and frustration. Now, if I’m trying to remember where I read about a specific person or idea, or if I’m trying to determine if something is mentioned in a specific page, I can hit Control-F and type in those words to quickly discern whether a text includes what I’m looking for.
4. You have authored several books, including one on information literacy, and you founded a company that created curriculum resources for authors and publishers. Have those experiences informed your work with NLP?
Absolutely. Developing curriculum resources is a mix of science and art. When I wrote my books and developed resources, I had to keep in mind the audience, the purpose and the main objectives. The same holds true with developing resources at NLP, but having the experience of creating these books and other resources first allowed me to better understand the parameters and scope of a project, in addition to little tips like how to format a document. These types of considerations are more methodical, and what I consider the “science” of curriculum development. But then comes the part that’s unique to the project, the “art.” How should we focus the story, lesson, etc.? How will we get the audience engaged? When I worked alone, I usually turned to my family and critique partners to get feedback. Here at NLP, there are numerous people on staff and in the larger education world I turn to for input at various stages of work. This is really a question about craft, a question all creatives — including educators (another part of my background) — can relate to. It’s about how we build something seemingly out of thin air, but in reality, is based on personal background, influences and feedback from respected stakeholders.
5. Aside from fighting for facts, what else are you passionate about?
I love books, theater and dance. I just finished Amanda Ripley’s High Conflict, and I think it should be required reading for every adult. It discusses how we get pulled into situations that make us lose our minds, how conflict can take over and how we get out. It is probably the best nonfiction book I’ve read in a decade. When I’m not reading, I’m frequently humming songs in my head. While it’s a constant rotation, showtunes from Hamilton and Wicked often enter that space. I love going to musicals, and my idea of a perfect vacation involves lots of Broadway shows. It would not be out of the ordinary to catch me dancing just about anywhere to these songs or others (even if they’re only playing in my head). Growing up, I took tap, jazz, ballet and lyrical. In college, I started line dancing. Later in life I tested out West Coast Swing, and most recently, Salsa! I’m down with anything that has a good beat.
6. Are you on team dog, team cat, team wombat?
Definitely team dog. Olli has been a steady companion for almost 17 years, going for walks and keeping me company while I work. We rescued Mara, most likely a Staffordshire terrier, in 2020 during the pandemic. Both dogs love to go to the dog park and try to sneak food, and both are very sweet.
7. And last, but not least, what item do you always have in your fridge?
Cream cheese because my family eats lots of bagels with cream cheese.