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.