Supporting news literacy: An update on what API is doing

Enabling young people to feel equipped to navigate the media environment — and perhaps even make it better — is crucial.

This week in March is traditionally observed as News in Education Week, and given our history with those programs through the former Newspaper Association of America’s foundation, we wanted to give an update on some of the things we at API are working on in this space, commonly referred to as “news literacy.”

Supporting the work of others, and discovery of ideas

It’s likely that more attention will be given to news literacy in 2017, and we feel it’s important to understand and share the promising work that’s already happening.

In 2016, we turned to a team at the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) to help update and inform our own thinking about news literacy efforts. We commissioned WAN-IFRA to take stock of the news literacy ideas it sees across its international networks. Their resulting report, which looks at projects outside the U.S., concentrates on latest best practices by WAN-IFRA’s Centers of Youth Engagement Excellence and recent winners of its World Young Reader Prizes, a longstanding contest to recognize those working to help empower or inform younger audiences. The report is due to be published this Wednesday, coinciding with NIE Week.

We’ve continued to support WAN-IFRA in other ways that uncover news literacy or youth and media efforts that could be replicated or built up, including by sponsoring categories in the World Young Reader Prizes. Last year, we were happy to make possible the News In Education prize category. We plan to support two categories this year, including traditional News in Education as well as a special category for this year on digital news literacy — an effort to highlight innovations that help young people navigate, judge, understand, verify, and use the content they encounter online.

Everyone has a stake in news literacy, and we plan to continue to support others wherever possible.

Experimenting with new technologies and approaches

The media environment evolves every day, and so should how we think about helping young people acquire skills they need to navigate it.

Ahead of the 2016 election, we partnered with Newsela, an education tech startup, to see what would happen if we used technology to place news literacy ideas in the context of other news young people were already engaging. Newsela adopted questions derived from Blur, a book co-authored by API Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel. The questions — which helped a reader think through topics like sourcing, evidence and completeness — were added to election-related articles through digital annotating. The news literacy questions appeared alongside the stories on learning platforms used in classrooms across the U.S. Newsela’s data shows we were able to reach thousands of students — our news literacy questions were answered about 5,000 times total. Nearly 2,000 answered questions for an article on then-candidate Donald Trump, and more than 1,000 answered news literacy questions on an article about immigration reform. The company has since iterated these questions for further use. All that in a matter of weeks.

The Newsela partnership was an experiment in how to reach at scale very large numbers of people with news literacy education through digital tools. We hope to take our learning from this digital approach and apply to other areas of work. Learning from experiments will remain necessary, as media continues to change.

Thinking through how news organizations themselves can change

Educational groups and technology companies certainly have a role in news literacy — and so do those who produce the journalism.

As we move deeper into 2017, here at the American Press Institute we are thinking about the role news organizations and individual journalists can have in making reporting processes easier to understand, illustrating the quality of information in a story, and other topics. How could story forms be better designed to help news literacy? If a given reporter cares about news literacy and wants to devote time to it, what are the best things for that reporter to do, whether it’s on social media or in real life? These are just a couple of the questions on our minds; our executive director Tom Rosenstiel broached others in an essay for Brookings.

There isn’t one intervention or one answer here, but success, whatever it looks like, has a better chance if efforts from multiple players and sides converge. No doubt people will have lots of ideas for how each can. We’d like to test ways journalists themselves can change.

In the more immediate future, we’ll be featuring Good Questions Q&As on the theme of youth and media. We invite you to follow those via our API Need to Know newsletter, which also regularly highlights ideas to build better journalism for younger audiences.