You probably didn’t know National News Literacy Week just ended on Friday. But there it was, tucked into the last days of January.

National News Literacy Week is a joint effort of the News Literacy Project, and nation’s leading provider of media literacy training, and The E.W. Scripps Co., a broadcasting company with roots in the newspaper business dating back to the 1800s.

The idea is to raise awareness of news literacy as a fundamental life skill and provide students, teachers and the public with techniques and tools for becoming news literate. A news literate public is essential to the health of democracy.

In the digital age, we consume information as if drinking from a fire hose. Problem is, not all information is created equal, and it can be awfully difficult to distinguish fact-based or evidence-based information from what we’ll charitably call its lesser cousins.

The building blocks of news literacy start with a question: What is the purpose of the information before you? Is it evidence-based reporting? Opinion? Trying to sell you something? Propaganda designed to provoke you? Entertainment? Raw, unverified video? Knowing the purpose of information is your first defense against being taken in by something that looks like verified news but is something else — and it keeps you from spreading misinformation.

A second building block is what news literacy trainers call “reading laterally.” That means verifying what you’re reading or watching while you’re doing it. It’s one reason a lot of news organizations, including ours, publish online the documents on which we base our reporting — you can see for yourself the primary source information we used.

There’s more, but you get the idea.

One quality is demanded of all of us if news literacy to enrich civic life — namely, we must be willing to change our minds in the face of new information. The Founding Fathers would understand that, believing as they did that rational people who possessed the facts could govern themselves.

News literacy training is a critical subset of civics education. And if you don’t believe we need to shore up people’s basic understanding of how civil society works, ask your member of Congress or a teacher or your mayor or school board member.

Chief Justice John Roberts took note of the problem in his 2019 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, stating, in part, “We have come to take democracy for granted, and civic education has fallen by the wayside.”

Roberts went on: “In our age, when social media constantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public’s need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more real.” He noted the good work the federal courts do in educating the public, such as posting opinions online and providing ready-to-use curriculum materials and training for teachers.

Becoming news literate is one way you can combat the spread of misinformation, whether it’s coming from a local politician or the guy on the next barstool or from one of those ubiquitous campaign TV commercials.

Resources

The News Literacy Project is a nonpartisan national education nonprofit that teaches students the skills needed to decide what to trust in the digital age. Website: newslit.org

iCivics is a nonprofit organization founded by retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to engage students in meaningful civic learning, including through video games. Website: iCivics.org

Rockford Register Star, Friday

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