From Media Giraffe
Jump to: navigation, search

News Literacy in the Digital Era (Aug. 11 morning)

UPDATE: Project proposals unveiled on Tuesday

A new initiative by American's newspaper editors to understand and promote "news literacy" has kicked off with a seminar at The Poynter Institute attended (Aug. 11-12, 2008) by about 40 journalists, educators and students. The American Society of Newspaper Editors arranged the invitation-only seminar in conjunction with Poynter and with support from the Ford Foundation.

Key goals, according to Poynter co-convenor Kelly McBride:

  • Become more articulate about news literacy as a topic
  • Come up with a series of projects to implement at the local level

Opening Aug.11, Howard Schneider, dean of the Stony Brook University School of Journalism, is talking about his definition of news literacy and what he is doing at Stony Brook -- teaching 1,000 students this semester and committed to teaching 10,000 students in the next few years. His talk was similar to a talk he gave in Lowell, Mass. on June 28, 2008.


Schneider says a Stony Brook goal is to become a national clearinghouse for information on news literacy. He says his passion for that goal began a few years ago when he taught a class in the ethics and values in American media. Students were very skeptical of media.

"When I was finished teaching that class, I was convinced that we would need to make a radical change in our plans for the journalism school." The second mission was: "To train the next generation of news consumers . . . and it was a mission that was as important if not more important than teaching the next generation of journalists."

"We began to pander," instead of realizing that we weren't at the heart. The NIE programs were the first thing that was cut. "Even the NIE programs, in retrospect, were really misguided." "We thought this was building another generation, it was all run by the circulation department, it was a marketing intiative. It was all to boosts sales .... we really didn't understand our audience, we didn't understand what was going on."

"News literacy is not about selling newspapers," says Schneider. But he says if we can create an audience that knows what news is about, it will help many things. "It is also not about technology."


A working definition from Schneider: "News literacy is the ability to use critical thinking skills to judge the reliability and credibility of news reports, whether they come via print, television or the internet."

"Media literacy" is a broader area, says Schneider. "It's the ability to access, analyze and evaluate media messages across an array of platforms . . . journalism is one tributary in media literacy. What we have done is taken that tributary and blow it out, to make it the center in everything we do." Why? asks Schneider. He answers: Because news is the greatest educational tool there is. The ability to assess news is a critical skill of citizenship. He says democracy can only flourish with an informed citizenry, and quality journalism can only be sustain by a public that recognizes it and is willing to support it.

Schneider says the news literacy course at Stony Brook tries to teach students that if they fail to interpret news stories correctly, it could have negative consequences on their lives. There is lots of confusion between news and opinion, he said.

Editors question Schneider

David Scribman, editor of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, told a story of a reader who had called criticizing his paper's Mideast coverage as biased against Israel. He said he read the women their story, and read the identical story from the New York Times, from which the Post-Gazette had obtained the account. The woman said, "You lying." Schribman said: "Where do you live, I'm getting in the car and coming to your house." He drove to the woman's house, and showed her both papers and read the identical language in both articles. And she said: "I never read the story, my daughter told me about it." And she offered him pastry. "I can't get in my car every day," said Schribman. "We need a Chautauqua (Institution) on this."

"That's what we should have been doing for years," said Schneider. "That's what we have to sell to our audience, and we never quite did it."

Renee Hobbs, a media literacy scholar from Temple University, talked about distinctions between media and news literacy. Media literacy uses concepts of reading, writing, speaking and listening. It is two way -- writing as well as reading, such as writing a press release, or a letter to the editor -- "contributing to citizenship through active engagement." She asks if Schneider was focused in "news literacy" too much on passive consumption, rather than contributing to the culture and political process.

"We do have the students write a letter to the editor," says Schneider. They also write essays on some aspect of media and democracy or media literacy.

Jim McGonnell, a high-school journalism techer from Findley, Ohio, (jmcgonnell at said professional journalists in the classroom or at conferences often time focus too much on themselves, and not enough on the subject. As a result, two groups he's involved with are sometimes wary of asking journalists to speak. Those two groups are the Journalism Education Association, at Kansas State University, which assists advisors of high-school newspapers, (Linda Putney, director), and the National Scholastic Press Association, at the University of Minnesota (Logan Aimone, director).

How information works among different generations

Jack MacKenzie from Frank N. Magid Associates Inc. next talks about "How Information Works Among Different Generations." He runs the millenial strategy program group at Magid. He said he is bullish about information and about millenials. "The fact is that we can do business with these guys and they are a pretty good group to do business with."

The changes which have sent news-industry revenues plunging and stagnated circulation are the result of the information consumption habits of Generation X, not the Millenials, according to MacKenzie. "The changes in our business have been driven by Gen X ers . . . this is the problem. Millenials aren't ... Millenials get their news from more sources . . . "if one definition of literacy is being plugged in, these guys win."

Questions asked by MacKenzie:

  • Are we hear to fix journalism or the companies that traditionally create and distribute it?
  • Are we here to save the truth, or our two-source, multiple angles to definie it?
  • Are we hear to save democracy or the the topics we think are important to protect it?

Magid's generation evolution and characterizations

  • Baby Boomers -- 1945-1964 -- Anti-establishment, combative parental relationships, over-achievers.
  • Generation X -- 1965-1976 -- Individualistic, vacuous parental relationships, under-achievers.
  • Millenials -- 1977-1996 -- Who are they and what do they want to do?

Defining the millenial generation

  • Confident in their ability to succeed
  • Smarter than previous generations -- aptitude test scores are up
  • Collaborative team players who think in groups
  • They like their parents
  • They're optimistic about their place in the world
  • They aren't rebellious and tend to follow authority
  • They are social networkers who are eager to share news with friends

Societal factors that helped form the millenials

  • In 1972, the nation passed Title IX -- requiring equal facilties for both sexes in federally funded educational facilities. This trickled down to young-girl athletic opportunities, has caused a gender-gap reduction and saw the birth of the girl-power movement.
  • Fifty-six percent of college freshman classes are female. Women are outperforming men by many measures.
  • Around 1974 -- soccer for young girls extended and strengthened the family unit -- first family sport . . . soccer moms and mini-fans . . . the birth of the idea of "don't keep score . . . trophies for everyone phenomenon."
  • Around 1976 -- Gymboree opens -- extending playgroup expectations, fostering emerge oof the active dad and playgroups.
  • Around 1978 -- Kids are more and more protected -- child-seat safety mandates, "baby on board" vs. latchkey kids, and the expectations of customization for the needs of the children (Densmore observation: Does this raise the possibility that millenails will be more self-centered?)
  • Now 83 million millenials. The adult population are on campus (22%), in flux (9%), single workers (16%) or settled (13%). Almost 30% are still teens.

How does Magid's research defines literacy?

Where do baby boomers get their news?

  • Top sources of news: A total of 83% watch local TV at least weekly; about 71% get news from friends, family or coworkers; 69% from local print newspapers; 67% from search engines; 65% from national network TV news; 59% from radio; 57% from web portals; 53% from cable TV news; 42% from national morning network news shows.

Where do Generation X get their news?

  • Top sources: 77% friends, family or coworkers; 73% local TV news;

Adult millenials use more sources: Low Literacy?

  • A total of 81% from friends, family or coworkers; 75% search engines; 69% web portals; 68% local TV news; 58% social-networking sites; 56% local print newspapers; 55% cable TV news; 52% radio; 50% national radio news.

What is the impact of the U.S. presidential election?

MacKenzie says, based on turnout figures for the presidential primaries, Millenials are plugged into the U.S. presidential election. Right now their participation "skews Democrat." He says a new book by a retired Magid reseachers and USC scholar, says that whoever wins this fall will likely win seven of the next 10 presidential elections. (Book citation: Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics, by Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais. Hais is retired as vice president, Entertainment Research, at communications research firm at Frank N. Magid Associates. Winograd is executive director of the Center for Telecom Management at USC’s Marshall School of Business. He served as Senior Policy Advisor to Vice President Al Gore, during the second term of President Clinton’s administration.)

Magid research finds that 27% of millenials have expressed political involvement with with web interaction, 19% with offline interaction, vs. Gen X'ers who have done 20% web and 14% offline and boomers 19% web and 20% offline.

The research also finds that millenials lead in word-of-mouth activities such as tring to convince others about candidates, or posting comments. The figures: 18% for millenials, 14% for Gen X'ers and XX% for boomers.

"So what's the problem, if they are showing that they are better citizens?" asks MacKenzie. The answer: "Boomers upon which we have built our business consume news daily, use the same sources and they consume it at the same time of day. And Millennials don't. That's what is the difficult part." For example:

  • Adult millenials are less likely to seek out news of the day: 29% adult Millennials, 35% Gen X'ers, 46% of Boomers.
  • They are less habitual in their news consumption. Asked if they use the same source: xx
  • Is there a certain time of day: 29% Millennials, 28% Gen X'ers, 44% Boomers.

Maybe they don't trust traditional/mainstream media?

MacKenzie said one hypothesis explored by Magid's research was whether Millennials don't trust traditional media. The research found that generally isn't true. "They trust anybody who has a viable website," he said. "They've got about the same amount of trust as Boomers have." MacKenzie says "trust" is not the most important consideration for Millennails in deciding what source to use, although it was one of the important factors.

Rather, Milennials "trust in themselves and each other." They make their own videos, and read and post comments. And they are not afraid to share their opinions and adult Millennials pass along more information about news events than the other two generations. They share information primarily from friends (41%), followed by local TV newscasts (39%), web sites (33%), national TV news programs (32%), programs on broadcast TV (31%), "my mom" (29%), print newspapers (29%) and newspaper websites (27%). Top sources -- rolled up -- TV news 50%; newspaper content (print or web) 41%; friends 41%; web site 33%; magazine contnet (print or Web) 24%.

The firm has created a series of questions and used online surveys to develop data on the most-used print information brands by generation -- Baby Boomers, Generation X and Adult Millennials. The online approach was used in part because the tradition of telephone surveys is becomming harder to make accurate -- fewer and fewer Millennials have listed, landline phones. The surveying found that the local print newspaper product was the No. 1 choice for all three generational subgroups. Other rankings:

Baby Boomer mentions:

Local Newspapers Smart Money Newsweek US News US Weekly Time Magazine Wall Street Journal USA Today People Chicago Tribune Business Week New Yorker Forbes New York Times Esqure LA Times

Generation X

Local newspapers USA Today Time Forbes People Business Week US Weekly Wall Street Journal Smart Money

Millennials (copy to come)

They also surveyed online brands. Tops on all three lists when asked the six questions were the Internet Movie Database and WikiPedia was No. 3 on the adult millennial list, lower on the boomers and GenX. FoxNews was No. 3 on the Boomer site. Other highly mentioned sites -- Google,, Yahoo News.

"They believe in each other. They actually believe what other people are talking about. And because they do and they trust them, that is a little bit of a problem," says MacKenzie. They think: "I kind of like that crowd notion. I kind of like the idea that we'll protect each other."

Schneider calls this finding disturbing: "What we are talking about is a generation that accepts information that other people accept . . . If this is the mindset of this generation then it seems to me we have a very big job to do to make them understand if they are going to survive the information age and make good decisions, they are going to have to apply other skills."

MacKenzie closes: "The idea that consumers are seeking out other opinions shouldn't offend us. It's good."

Some tentative conclusions

Rex Smith, editor of The Albany [N.Y.] Times Union next asks the group to reach some tentative conclusions based on what they've heard so far.

Tom Bettag, Discovery Channel research found that Millennials are turned off to news-reading and hype behind a desk, but are very open to sober discussion of the issues of the day. Discovery discovered this when asking focus groups how they should use former ABC Nightline news anchor Ted Koppel.

Jack MacKenzie said newspapers need to think about how they can be relevant to Millennial readers. "Credibility is not how you should market your product. It doesn't have resonance. If you're trying to sell newspapers, I don't think that is the way to do it . . . I don't think it is believable. I don't think you can make a sale on that point and make a sale to any generation."

John Hamilton of Louisiana State University raised what he called a troubling underlying question. "You could argue that our interest in media literacy is driven by our lack of economic viability" for what MSM has been doing. Many sources are free. "We can teach them to be very media literate and discriminating and that is a very worthwhile thing to do but ... who is going to provide original reporting and how are we going to find an economic way to sustain that?" is it going to come from multiple journalists. "Literate for what?" If there isn't quality news out there. "We might be teaching people to be literate about a model that isn't viable anymore."

Renee Hobbs, the Temple researcher, took off on that point. She noted that Yale legal scholar Yochai Benkler, in his book, The Wealth of Networks, chronicles a shift from market-bsaed information sharing to non-market based information sharing. "Reliable, high quality news and information now comes from people who are partisan, who are stakeholders." Data about perceptions of credibility show that people feel increasingly distrustful of market-based journalism. To be media literate, she says, means understanding how changing economic contexts shape both the the production and reception of informational messages.

Jerry Ceppos. "Do Millennials want to be educated about news literacy?"