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Conference explores how to teach news literacy, skepticism

MONTREAL, Canada

What’s the best way to persuade students and communities to not only read news, but to read it with at least one eye on misleading rhetoric, mistakes and just plain fakery? That was a topic examined during a Tuesday workshop, “Journalism’s Expanding Role in the Future of Education,” at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s annual conference.

At Queens University of Charlotte’s Knight School of Communication, one answer is to get the campus and local residents working together. “We’re moving the needle on digital literacy not only in school but in the community of Charlotte,” said Eric Freedman, the communication school’s dean. Students and residents have participated in Code for America-Charlotte, local hackathons, Digital Charlotte and other programs.FCP logo

And there’s the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, where students learn and write about juvenile justice and youth service in the community.

Alan Miller, one of the founders of the news literacy movement in the U.S., is the director of the News Literacy Project. The program pairs professional journalists with students “to teach the survival skills they need in an information age,” he said.

At CUNY, a new degree program is expected to begin early next year — a master’s degree in social journalism. Associate professor Adam Glenn says the project will promote “the practice and study of informed and engaged community.”

The CU-CitizenAccess program, run by the University of Illinois at Urbanna-Chanpagne, partners with local media to produce investigative and enterprise stories about issues in east central Illinois.

In programs like these, students learn to check facts and ask the questions that produce answers instead of evasion.

But it’s not easy. Obstacles range from aggravating — like the fact that CU students must file official Freedom of Information Act requests just to obtain health department restaurant inspection data — to serious funding and sustainability problems.

Fred Blevins, a professor at Florida International University, says his school is “dirt poor”  and participated in  fundraisers including car washes to pay for literacy-type projects. The effort finally transformed into a popular course called “How We Know What We Know.”

To address some of the persistent problems in teaching news literacy, Poynter, with a grant from the McCormick Foundation, will hold a news literacy summit next month. With the help of educators, administrators, technologists, funders and more, the summit will try to define news literacy, best practices,  and sharing of resources, according to Poynter grants manager Wendy Wallace.

The AEJMC conference continues through the week with hundreds of seminars and research presentations on media and journalism instruction issues.

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