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Rebooting the News: Reconsidering an Agenda for American Civic Education

As the Internet increasingly puts two-way communication tools into the hands of all citizens, American teen-agers should be taught techniques for analyzing and creating news, a group of educators, scholars and journalists has recommended. 


A short, strategic convening for journalists to find common purpose with teachers, educational administrators and public-policy researchers on the meaning and teaching of news literacy

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. – As the Internet increasingly puts two-waycommunication tools into the hands of all citizens, American teen-agersshould be taught techniques for analyzing and creating news, a group ofeducators, scholars and journalists has recommended.

Nearly 70 journalists, educators, new media professional andhigh school students gathered in Philadelphia for “Rebooting the News:Reconsidering an Agenda for American Civic Education,” a conferenceco-sponsored by the National Constitution Center, Temple UniversityMedia Education Laboratory and The Media Giraffe Project at theUniversity of Massachusetts Amherst.The William Penn Foundation provided financial support for the program.


“Because news surrounds us, news literacy is an essential lifeskill for everyone,” says a statement adopted signed by a group ofconference participants. “To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson: Knowledge ofcurrent issues is essential to informed citizenship in a democracy.People are concerned about the effects of media on youth and others.Modern participatory culture makes every citizen a potential creator ofnews in social media, blogs, email and the web. Citizens need tounderstand the purposes, processes and economics of news.”

According to the conference participants, “News literacy isdefined as the acquisition of 21st-century, critical-thinking skillsfor analyzing and judging the reliability of news, differentiatingamong facts, opinions and assertions in the media we create anddistribute. It can be taught most effectively in cross-curricular,inquiry-based formats at all grade levels. It is a necessary componentfor literacy in contemporary society.”

At the kickoff event at Philadelphia’s National ConstitutionCenter, Margaret Duffy of the University of Missouri’s School ofJournalism spoke about the changing news and media usage habits ofyoung adults. Fabrice Florin, a distinguished technology expert, sharedhis work building an online community of news readers at Yelvington, an online journalist formerly of the Minneapolis StarTribune, shared thoughts about the past, present and future ofjournalism’s mission and civic purposes.

On Friday, Howard Schneider, dean of the School of Journalismat University of New York, Stony Brook offered a keynote address onnews literacy, describing his innovative model for teaching about thenews to university students. On Saturday, Mark Goodman, head of theCenter for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State, offered a keynote onthe legal challenges faced by student journalists today. Using ademocratic conference format where participants themselves offered upquestions, topics and issues to shape the conference agenda, questionsfocused on the actual practices for developing news and media literacyand the use of online and social media tools for developing civicengagement in the context of elementary, secondary and highereducation.

Questions included: What does news literacy look and soundlike in K-12 classrooms? Is it possible to laugh at our politicalprocess without disengaging from it? How do we train teacherseffectively for implementing news literacy? How can we utilize onlinetools to promote news literacy? Can student journalism programs buildnews literacy skills? Why or why not?

The diverse nature of the conference participants created manyopportunities for learning and sharing. Participants included BrianDoyle, a media literacy educator just graduated from Old Miss where hewas editor of his college newspaper, Jackie Kain, head of new media atKCET Los Angeles, Jeannine Cook of Philadelphia’s Youth EmpowermentServices which runs a media program for out-of-school youth, and DianaMitsu-Clos of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington,D.C. among many others. In addition to educators and journalists, highschool students from the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphiaparticipated in the conference, sharing their insights about media,technology, and news and current events.

According to conference host Renee Hobbs of Temple University,“Educators and journalists are both stakeholders in helping the nextgeneration of young people understand how to critically analyzeinformation sources, especially news and current events.”

Other topics explored the issue of how news and media literacydepends upon a robust interpretation of copyright and fair use; thedifference between skepticism and cynicism; the blurring of the rolesof producer and consumer; and the challenge of encouraging youth civicengagement in authoritarian education environments.