Can journalists help “digital-native children” sort through fact from fiction?

A new term was coined in 2001─ digital natives. The term describes folks who have been familiar with information technology since childhood when social digital technologies came online. Major parts of their lives and daily activities are impacted by digital technologies, social interactions, friendships, civic activities, and hobbies. A digital native has never known any other way of life.[1]

Most of our children are digital natives. What does this mean for literacy?

Once a child is reading, there’s the critical component of comprehension (what’s the point of sounding out letters and words if you can’t understand what the words mean)? A growing challenge to comprehension is how to sort through fact vs. fiction. It’s not enough to tell your children that not everything they read, hear or see is true. How are children to sort fact from fiction when they’re bombarded on all fronts by information from the Internet?

There’s a group of folks whose profession depends on sorting through fact from fiction ─ journalists. Thankfully, some journalists are stepping up to bring tools of the trade to teachers and students through the News Literacy Project (NLP).[2] Established four years ago, the NLP is bringing seasoned journalists (active and retired) to middle and high school students and their teachers in 21 inner-city and suburban schools in the Washington, D.C. area, New York City, and Chicago. The aim is to teach students how to sort fact from fiction.

To understand why the timing of the NLP is so important for our “digital native” children, Allan Miller, president and CEO of the NLP, perhaps says it best.[3] “A century ago, Mark Twain said that a lie can get halfway around the world while truth is still putting on its shoes. In this hyperlinked information age, a lie can get all the way around the world and back while truth is still getting out of bed. There is so much potential here for misinformation, for propaganda, for spin, all of the myriad sources that are out there. More and more of the onus is shifting to the consumer.”[4]

While this is indeed a challenge for all consumers of information, this is particularly a challenge for children who are developing their critical thinking skills.[5]

How is the NLP trying to make a difference? The NLP enables journalists ─ print, broadcast and online reporters and editors, producers and photographers ─ to visit middle school and high school classrooms or participate in videoconferences with students via Skype. Their key message to students ─ seek verified information on any medium or platform. The journalists also offer a bag of tools to help teachers ─ English, social studies, history, government, humanities and journalism. Teachers use the NLP’s core curriculum for in-school and after-school uses including hands-on exercises for students. And teachers and students alike learn from personal stories from journalists, narrated videos and an online Learn Channel.[6]

“A core principle [of the NLP] is that students use the standards of quality journalism as a yardstick to measure all news and information.” The NLP’s resources for teachers and students are grounded in four key questions identified as “vital for an informed citizen in the digital age:

  • Why does news matter?
  • Why is the First Amendment protection of free speech so vital to American democracy?
  • How can students know what to believe?
  • What challenges and opportunities do the Internet and digital media create?”

The classroom curriculum addresses several issues germane to our information age. For example, students are challenged to identify whether a piece of news or information comes from a reliable source – whether news, spin, rumor, opinion, misinformation, advertising or propaganda. And students are encouraged to consider whether the information is credible and if so, should they share it with others? This seems like an especially useful process of scrutiny given the frequent sharing of “information” among adolescents on social media.

Journalists participating in the NLP are trained to develop presentations that focus on the project’s core concepts and how best to integrate their resources within existing  classroom curriculum and student grade levels.

The NLP continues to expand services. In fall 2014, new digital materials came online through the Center for News Literacy’s Digital Resource Center. Teachers and the public at large can now obtain resources in three categories useful to building a news literacy course for any grade level – and learning how to integrate them into an existing course:

  • News literacy materials: A search engine helps you find relevant, timely news literacy materials from an archive of 60,000+ digital files (searchable by concepts, material types, topics and more).
  • Interactive forums: You can connect with other news literacy educators and Center for News Literacy staff to discuss developments in the field and share anecdotes from classrooms.
  • Course building information: You can obtain documents, materials and help to start a news literacy course from other educators and administrators.

Our digital-native children are “air traffic controllers” ─facing heavy incoming traffic from tablets, smart phones, computer screens, video games, and television. It’s comforting to know that help is on the way from journalists, bringing their tools of the trade to help students learn how to sort through some of the traffic.



[2] Information for this blog comes from:

[3] The NLP is the brain child of Allan Miller, a former Los Angeles Times investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner.



[6] The Learn Channel’s talks, lessons and other digital resources include topics such as how to search on Google and other search engines; how to do photo fact-checking in the digital age; and a consumer’s guide to sourcing in news reports.


Lisa Guernsey’s 13 minute TEDx Talk on the impacts of screen time on children

If you’re wondering why there’s growing concern about the impact of “screen time” on children, especially those under three, you may want to devote 13 minutes to watch a TEDx Talks[1]How the iPad affects young children, and what we can do about it (TEDxMidAtlantic, April 27, 214).

The speaker on the stage is Lisa Guernsey, Director of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative. A decade ago she was a technology and education reporter for the New York Times. She also wrote a book on how media affects children (Screen Time: How Electronic Media — From Baby Videos to Educational Software — Affects Your Young Child).

If you’re not clicking right now to the Internet to listen to Lisa, here’s the gist of her remarks. As parents (and she is one), we should pay attention to how children understand the omnipresent screens in their lives─ iPADs, smart phones, computers and television. Lisa calls out some key questions she and others have about screen time: Will it affect children’s’ attention span? How will children come to understand the world around them through screens?

“Children see things a little differently than we do,” Lisa reminds us. She shares some compelling examples of how we know this from the research world. For example, research informs us that young children think that popcorn will come pouring out of a television if you turn it upside down when it’s showing popcorn on the screen. From this and other research we know that children up until about two and a half to three years old react to screen “reality” differently than older folks.[2]

Lisa says there are three “C’s” we should pay attention to in interacting with the screens in our children’s lives: content, context, and the children themselves.

  • There should be good content that children can learn from. The content should contain the same aspects we would seek in a good preschool teacher: 1) focuses on learning and engaging the child, 2) says things more than once (repeats messages) for more effective learning, 3) provides chances for pause to allow the child time to react to what is being said, and 4) contains no violence or aggression because young children often imitate what they see.
  • Context is about how the child is interacting with the media. The parent should engage with the child as the child engages with the media ─ to ask the child questions and explain what’s being presented.
  • Children is about how to interact with your own child, knowing the ways he/she reacts, taking into consideration the particular needs and interests of the child.

Lisa offers us an interesting idea for thought, in addition to her call for attention to the three C’s. What if every family had a media mentor, someone who could talk to our children about what they’re seeing? This could be a preschool teacher, child librarian, childcare provider, or even parent. Her thinking is, even if we follow the three Cs, by the time a child is around nine, screen time is all around them. It seems best then to put serious attention on managing this growing presence ─ to learn from media and apply this learning to the wider world.

While many commentators are calling right now for restricting screen time for children, especially under three years old, Lisa focuses on better managing the child-to-screen relationship to benefit learning. I take heart that a former technology and education news reporter who continues to write and think about media impacts on children’s’ lives – and indeed all our lives – thinks that we have a major force to be reckoned with – the media. And here we are with our own “screen” choices on this topic ─ able to view a free online presentation on a screen through TEDx Talks if your preference is audio/visual; or to read a blog on a website if your preference is reading for information. However we prefer to acquire information and share our thinking, it’s clear that screen time is an important ─ indeed a vital part of our “real” world.

I don’t know at what precise age children realize that popcorn is not going to come out of the television if you turn it upside down when popcorn is depicted on the screen, but it’s clearly our job to help them sort through what is in the screen and what is not. I’m a fan of Lisa’s three Cs: let’s focus on good screen content, the context for using screens well, and adapting to the needs and interests of our children. And if media mentors can help families make best use of the omnipresent screens in our world, I’m all for it.


[1] From TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global set of conferences run by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading.” TED’s early emphasis was technology and design but it has broadened its focus to include talks addressing a wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture, often through storytelling. Speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. As of April 2014, over 1,700 talks were freely available on the website; and as of Nov. 2012, TED talks had been watched over one billion times worldwide. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized though subject to certain rules and regulations.

[2] If you want to learn more about why folks are focusing on birth to 24-30 months in a child’s development, check out my blog from Dec. 27, 2913, “Looking into “screen” time for children ─ impacts on reading at: <>