Proposal unveiled to hire 50 laid-off journalists to teach "news literacy" to non-journalism college majors

Stony Brook University unveiled on Friday a proposal to hire 50 laid-off journalists to undergo training this summer and join dozens of U.S. university campuses in the fall to teach "news literacy" to non-journalism majors.

Howard Schneider, dean of the Stony Brook School of Journalism, announced the initative at the end of a three-day conference on news literacy. "Their salaries would be paid for by the grant," said Schneider. He and Alberto Ibarguen, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, confirmed that Knight would provide a planning grant to launch the initiative.

Schenider said he will seek funding from two potential sources. He said they would be sought from the federal government's economic stimulus plan and from foundations. He said he was seeking other universities and colleges to help with the effort.

Some 80 university presidents, administrators, journalists and education activists gathered at Stony Brook University on Long Island on Thursday and Friday with the aim of proposing a national effort to teach "news literacy" to the high-school and college students.

Thursday morning a panel of university administrators considering how to teach Americans to do a better job of understanding the importance of news to democracy through a new discipline called "news literacy."


Sanford J. Ungar, president of Coucher College says the need is how to teach students to be critical thinkers with a skeptical approach to the news. "This is a healthy coming together of the worlds of journalism and higher education that has been needed for some time."

"We're feeling intensely the need to be public goods," said Nancy Cantor, president of Syracuse University said of her institution's role.  "We are really trying to be anchors in our community and be that two-way street and it seems to me news literacy is one of the most powerful ways you can think about that anchor relationship . . . I think we always have to go back to the K-12 and think from the very beginning about how you embed this kind of core curriculum." 

Stony Brook's president, Shirley Strum Kenny, said she was fascinated by the notion that news literacy should be taught in high school as a priority.

"I think it absolutely a continuum, but I think we really need to start young," said Cantor.

But even college faculty need to be exposed to the idea of news literacy, said Brady Deaton, chancellor of the University of Missouri at Columbia, which houses the nation's oldest, and near-largest journalism school.

Louisiana State University President John Lombardi sparked discussion when he argued that it may be best not to think of news literacy education as the domain of journalists.

Taking "This isn't about people who's job is a profession . . . but in fact it is a conversation about how we deal with information in a broadscale and journalism is just a part of it."  "It doesn't seem like this is a journalism guild-style operation . . . it seems to me we have to get it away from the private property of journalists."

"I think this represents a step toward abandoning that concept," replied Deaton. "What I heard this morning was a reintroduction of the concept of reasoning into our media consumption."

"To me this is really quite an opening of an otherwise guild occupation," said Cantor. "Once you start bringing faculty from other disciplines in and their students follow them, you are not in the guild environment anymore."

"I think these exclusive domains are obsolute and what we need to find is a common domain on which this can all be hashed out," said Ungar. "This is not just training about journalism. It some ways it is anti-journalism training."