NewsLitCamp: Highlights 2021

NewsLitCamp: Highlights 2021

The NewsLitCamp, hosted by the News Literacy Project, is an outreach program dedicated to providing educators with the latest tools and information that they need to equip their students in the fight against fake news.  This year, 15 reporters and staff members from CNN joined in, offering exclusive insight into the back door of the nation’s top rated cable news network.

A useful delineation of terms was presented by John Silva, who directs education initiatives at the News Literacy Project.  “Fake news,” once a distinct term referring to completely fabricated information formatted like a news story, has been overused to the point of uselessness.  It has also taken on the tone of a slur used in disagreements of points of view regardless of evidence.  Instead, false news stories can be referred to with more exact terms.  Misinformation is partially or completely false news stories that are shared by average people who may not be aware that they are fake.  Disinformation, on the other hand, is false information spread by bots and interested parties who know the information is fake.  This kind of fake news is intended to harm others for some type of gain, whether to get people to join a cause or to interfere with elections.  These newer terms are intended to help educators better understand distinctions about how information is shared and used.

Conference participants were joined by CNN’s Standards and Ethics team and their Social Media team.  Almost all real news sources, whether television, print or web based, have developed ethical practices in conjunction with the Society of Professional Journalists and in light of the public need to know about the fairness and accuracy of their news.  In most cases, these ethical standards can be found online, giving news consumers the opportunity to trust their news sources with full knowledge.  Without these standards, news outlets may claim little responsibility to their viewers, informants, sponsors or employees, reducing or eliminating their trustworthiness and providing no insurance for accuracy. 

The social media team focuses on fact checking news articles found specifically on social media and outlined their own procedures for ensuring that their information is correct.  Lateral reading is their most important tool to verify the facts of a story.  To use this tool, a news consumer would open a news story in one tab of their browser.  In another tab, the reader would look up claims and statistics to make sure they check out.  Other information they may choose to verify include the author (who are they?  Do they represent a particular company or special interest group?  What stake do they have in the information?), the publication (is it reputable overall?  Have they failed a fact check?  Are they attached to another organization which may use news stories as a form of propaganda?) and the images (do they match the story content?)  Any news reader, using lateral reading, can quite literally fact check the news like a real news professional.

After that, CNN reporters, including Don Lemon, formed a panel to discuss race and reporting.  As Lemon noted, the difference between the Black Lives Matter summer protests and the recent insurrection is that the protests were based on fact.  Plenty of documentation exists to demonstrate the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor and the countless others who have suffered as a result of police brutality.  On the other hand, there is no evidence whatsoever to prove that the 2020 US election was rigged in any way.  This balance of truth, however, rarely appears on mainstream news outlets, and often it is because few people of color are prominent in American newsrooms.  Compounding this issue is a lack of general awareness of the contributions of people of color in American culture.  Washington DC, for instance, was designed by Pierre L’Enfant, a Black architect, and much of the construction for government buildings was completed by slaves.  When we as a society are ignorant of these kinds of accomplishments, we lack both empathy and history.  Therefore, news outlets should make a greater effort to ground their facts in historical context, especially with regard to BIPOC history. 

The NewsLitCamp was a deeply informative immersion in the intersection between news practices and educational opportunities.  The News Literacy Project offers a wealth of other resources, such as Checkology, that can help teachers, librarians and the general public better understand their news.  This site should be one of the first stops for any curious news consumer interested in fact checking. 

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