The main purpose of this Module is to define news literacy, its main building blocks and the content of a news literacy training programme.
The secondary aim is to guide trainers who want to use the content of this Module to train their trainees.
With these aims in this module, definition of news literacy, building blocks of news literacy concept, its connection with critical thinking as well as media and information literacy concepts are covered.
Trainees who successfully complete this module will be able to:
Additionally, trainers who successfully complete this Module, will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the guidelines for training on the subject.
This Module consists of the following parts:
Main objectives of the module, description of the content and the learning outcomes are explained in the Module Description part. Content includes all study materials and the content related exercises. Quiz includes multiple choice questions for trainees to test their progress. Resources have two components: references and recommended resources for further study. References is the list of resources cited in the content part. Recommended sources consist of a list of supplemental sources and videos which are highly recommended to read and watch for learning more on the topic. Guidelines for Trainees includes instructions and suggestions for trainees. Guidelines for Trainers leads trainers through different phases of the training and provides tips which could be useful while teaching the subject.
Trainees are expected to read the text, closely study examples, watch recommended videos and do the exercises. They can consult suggested sources for further information. After completing the study of the content trainees are strongly suggested to take the quiz to evaluate their progress. They can revise the study material when and if needed.
Guidelines for trainers includes suggestions and tips for trainers about how to use the content of this Module to train people on the news literacy and related concepts.
Preparing a presentation (PowerPoint/Prezi/Canva) is strongly suggested. Choosing and presenting examples are also suggested.
A short quiz (3 to 5 questions) in Kahoot or questions with Mentimeter can be used at the beginning for engaging participants in the topic. It can be used as a motivation tool as well as a tool to check trainees’ existing knowledge about the subject.
Various teaching methods can be used in combination during the training. Such as:
An effective way of involving participants and setting common expectations about what they will learn is to ask a few preliminary questions on the subject. For instance you can ask trainees how they define news literacy.
After the discussions, make sure that trainees are able to understand the concept.
The objective of the lesson should be made clear (which is to define the concept of news literacy). Following the warming-up questions it will be easier to clarify the objectives.
While presenting the content make sure to interact with the trainees and encourage them for active participation.
Make a short summary of the lesson and ask a couple of questions which underline the most important messages you planned to give.
After the discussions make sure that trainees understand that news literacy is a complex concept which has different aspects (composed of various building blocks) and is closely related with wider concepts such as media literacy and information literacy. Also underline the fact that news literacy skills can be developed through comprehensive training.
The ability and inclination to think critically about news is valued more than ever (Lai Ku, Kong, Song, Deng, Kang & Hu, 2019, p. 3), since the post-truth age is marked by affective information behaviour, increasing amount of ambiguous information, polarising views, heuristic thinking, and algorithmic bias (Vraga & Tully, 2021, p. 150).
Today, news is produced by more people and distributed across a greater number of platforms and technologies than ever. This new landscape of nearly unfettered participation and accessibility has contributed to an expansion of “news” to include far more than the products of professional journalism outlets. Consequently, there is a growing concern not only about proliferating misinformation but also about people’s ability to combat misinformation and to locate and distinguish relevant and high-quality information (Vraga, Tully, Maksl, Craft & Ashley, 2021, p. 1).
News literacy, today, is seen as a means to improve critical media consumption (Vraga & Tully, 2021, p. 150). When the potential of news in informing citizens and fostering civic engagement and democratic participation as well as the limitations of news media and changes in news production processes (especially on producers' side) are taken into account the importance of news literacy becomes obvious (Ashley, Maksl & Craft, 2013, p. 7).
Before defining news literacy, it could be better to clarify what news and literacy mean. “News” is a broad term that means different things to different people and in different contexts, however, it can be defined as any accurate information that facilitates decision-making on both personal and social issues, thus enabling people to more effectively engage with society (Vraga, Tully, Maksl, Craft & Ashley, 2021, p. 3). Social media further extends this definition to include a variety of claims, stories and information about public affairs. Moreover, in the digital news landscape, individuals are faced with a barrage of content that looks like news but could in fact be propaganda, marketing, or misinformation, which complicates attempts to figure out what news is and what it isn’t (Tully, Maksl, Ashley, Vraga & Craft, 2021, p. 3).
The simplest meaning of “literacy” is the ability to read and write. However, the concept of literacy goes beyond simply being able to read; it has always meant the ability to read with meaning, and to understand. It is the fundamental act of cognition. Today, the notion of literacy is used as a metaphor referring to a baseline of knowledge and competence of a field of study (Bawden, 2001, p. 220, 223). For instance, news literacy implies being conversant with news and having basic skills needed to consume and evaluate news and participate in news production (Malik, Cortesi & Gasser, 2013, p.6).
News literacy addresses the knowledge and skills necessary to become a more mindful and sceptical news consumer who understands the relationship between journalists, news production, citizens, and democracy in changing media environments. News literacy requires an understanding of both the content and contexts of news production and consumption, including the role of social media platforms and users in the news ecosystem, and the ways in which consumers’ beliefs colour their selection and interpretation of news (Vraga & Tully, 2021, p. 151)
News literacy, in other words, includes an understanding of the role news plays in society; the motivation to seek out news (having a sense of the importance of following news and understanding the consequences of ignoring the news); the ability to find, identify and recognize news (this is important when the shifting boundaries of news definition is taken into account); the ability to critically evaluate news; and the ability to create news (Malik, Cortesi & Gasser, 2013, p. 8-9).
News Literacy is also defined as knowledge of the personal and social processes by which news is produced, distributed, and consumed, and skills that allow users some control over these processes (Vraga, Tully, Maksl, Craft & Ashley, 2021, p. 5).
Vraga, Tully, Maksl, Craft and Ashley (2021, p. 5) propose five domains, namely context, creation, content, circulation, and consumption, as the building blocks of news literacy.
Context is defined as the social, legal, and economic environment in which news is produced. Knowledge about context includes identifying dominant business structures of news organisations, social media and technology firms, the roles other organisations like public relations and government play in influencing content, and the legal protections and constraints in which content producers within and outside of news organisations operate in. Skills relating to news context include how well individuals interpret constraints in which news is produced. This includes ability to evaluate terms of service for social media sites as well as regulations and legislations that limit and or support freedom of expression and media (Vraga, Tully, Maksl, Craft & Ashley, 2021, p. 6; Tully, Maksl, Ashley, Vraga & Craft, 2021, p. 6-7).
Creation is defined as the process in which journalists and others engage in conceiving, reporting, and ultimately creating news stories and other journalistic content. Knowledge about news creation includes knowledge about characteristics of journalists, the norms that underlie journalism, and the routines in which journalists engage in reporting and content creation. Creation skills also involve the ability to discern newsworthiness and to use that information to create messages, such as tweets or posts that share news (Vraga, Tully, Maksl, Craft & Ashley, 2021, p. 6; Tully, Maksl, Ashley, Vraga & Craft, 2021, p.7-9).
Content is defined as the qualitative characteristics of a news story that distinguishes it from other types of media content. Knowledge of news content includes recognizing news values, understanding dominant ways in which news is often presented, such as episodic or thematic frames, and recognizing key features of news, such as use of sources and evidence of verification. It also includes developing skills to identify various kinds of news content, as opposed to opinion or advertising, and evaluate the quality and credibility of news (Vraga, Tully, Maksl, Craft & Ashley, 2021, p. 6-7; Tully, Maksl, Ashley, Vraga & Craft, 2021, p. 9-10).
Circulation is defined as the process through which news is distributed and spread to potential audiences. Knowledge about news circulation first requires recognition of news circulation as a process influenced by a variety of factors in a social system. Skills related to circulation include recognizing the outcome of personalization in search and social feeds or customising social media settings. These skills reflect that users understand circulation and are able to exercise some control over their exposure (Vraga, Tully, Maksl, Craft & Ashley, 2021, p. 7; Tully, Maksl, Ashley, Vraga & Craft, 2021, p. 10-11).
News consumption is defined as the personal factors that contribute to news exposure, attention, and evaluation. Knowledge about news consumption involves understanding that people’s personal biases and predispositions affect news exposure, attention, and evaluation. Skills related to consumption should focus on individuals’ ability to evaluate their own news exposure and consumption choices, attention, and evaluation and then to curate a news diet with diverse sources that fits their information needs (Vraga, Tully, Maksl, Craft & Ashley, 2021, p. 7; Tully, Maksl, Ashley, Vraga & Craft, 2021, p. 11-13).
Together, these five domains comprise news literacy. Focusing on and holistically addressing all these building blocks offer conceptual clarity to develop a comprehensive news literacy curriculum that keeps up with the pace of change in the news, information, and technology sectors (Vraga, Tully, Maksl, Craft & Ashley, 2021, p. 7-8).
Critical thinking in the post-truth era demands that news users develop and maintain a sceptical way of knowing, and cultivate the ability to discern evidence-based and unbiased information to make sound judgments (Lai Ku, Kong, Song, Deng, Kang & Hu, 2019, p. 1).
In the post-truth age, facts and objective evidence are less powerful in shaping public opinion than personal beliefs, anecdotes, and popular views (Cooke, 2017). Critical thinking is the first line of defence when information cannot always be trusted, because it guides people to hold beliefs that are consistent with available evidence. A fundamentally important characteristic of critical thinking is an ability to seek evidential foundations in justifying a viewpoint (Lai Ku, Kong, Song, Deng, Kang & Hu, 2019, p. 3).
Critical thinking plays an essential role in news literacy, which involves the ability to think about the credentials and quality of the news (Rosenbaum, Beentjes, & Konig, 2008). Hobbs (2010) has specified critical thinking skills central to news literacy. There is a generally agreed core set of critical skills in the domain of news: (1) understanding the standpoints and purposes of a news message, (2) evaluating the strength and quality of evidence, (3) distinguishing facts from opinions, (4) identifying biases, and (5) sharing informed points of views in a digital media environment (Lai Ku, Kong, Song, Deng, Kang & Hu, 2019, p. 4).
The perils of accepting information based on convenience, emotional appeal, popularity, or other heuristics rather than evidence or facts is amplified by digital news platforms. Social media encourages heuristics processing through consuming news occasionally and sporadically without devoting much time to understanding and evaluating the content. Such heuristic-based consumption is often done by scanning the headlines, keywords, pictures, or other highlights of the news bringing a general impression of news content without in-depth understanding of the news story and complete formation of diverse perspectives (Meijer & Kormelink, 2015). Heuristic processing of news stories is also encouraged through the social media personalised algorithms. Use of algorithms has changed the nature of news story selection from the professional judgement of editors or journalists to readers’ interests and preferences (Newman, Fletcher, Kalogeropoulos,Levy, & Nielsen, 2017). This brings risks as the algorithms control the flow of news information the public receive, with the public poorly informed about how algorithms select news for them (DeVito, 2017), and many are unaware that such algorithms exist at all (Rader & Gray, 2015). Social media algorithms contribute to a news environment that makes critical thinking difficult because information is filtered based on the user's existing beliefs and preferences: there is a risk of creating “echo chambers” where users only receive content with similar viewpoints from like-minded people. In the absence of counter and diversified viewpoints, one’s opinion is constantly rewarded, which further encourages the individual to seek information that is compatible with his or her view. Critical thinking in news is essentially the elimination of heuristics processing as well as reasoning based on prior beliefs or popular beliefs (Lai Ku, Kong, Song, Deng, Kang & Hu, 2019, p. 6).
News literacy is an emerging field within the disciplines of media literacy, journalism education and information literacy (Kajimoto & Fleming, 2019).
Concurrent with the growth of the field of news literacy, researchers from a number of disciplines seek consensus not only on the definition of the concept but also on its components and the broader fields news literacy is related to. Although it seems like researchers could not reach a consensus, mainly due to the theoretical and conceptual overlap among news literacy, information literacy, digital literacy, critical literacy, and media literacy, everyone agrees that news literacy is a subset of the broader field of media literacy (Ashley, Maksl & Craft, 2013, p. 8). The difference between the news literacy and the other related literacies is often ambiguous because in practice, none of these domains is standardised (Kajimoto & Fleming, 2019). While news literacy is a subset of media literacy, media literacy is a subset of information literacy. Critical literacy and digital literacy are prerequisites for all three of them.
News literacy is, in fact, at the intersection of both the information and media literacies (or recently known as media and information literacy), as news is a type of information which can be delivered through the media. However, its connection to civic engagement is what conceptually distinguishes it from other information or media (Malik, Cortesi & Gasser, 2013, p.7).
The description of news literacy as an application of critical-thinking skills is similar to definitions of media literacy found in its extensive research literature. There are dozens of competing definitions of media literacy and information literacy (as well as competing related literacies, such as digital literacy and 21st century literacy, among others). Every advocacy group and research organisation has its own definition that emphasises the skills which it feels to be most important (Malik, Cortesi & Gasser, 2013, p. 7). Media literacy generally focuses on the idea of mass media, its purposeful means and production ends (Farmer, 2019, p. 4). It is commonly defined in terms of the ability to analyse and evaluate messages across the range of media platforms. Ability to create messages is also included by many researchers as a component of media literacy. Others describe media literacy as a skill essential to citizenship (Craft, Ashley & Maksl, 2016, p. 144). But beyond critical-thinking skills and the relevant aspects of media platforms what news literacy specifically comprises is the things to know in order to effectively analyse and evaluate news messages (Craft, Ashley & Maksl, 2016, p. 145).
Media literacy fits well under the umbrella of information literacy which is defined as the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyse, and use information (American Library Association, 2021). News literacy involves accessing, understanding, evaluating, and interpreting news messages (Farmer, 2019, p. 4), on the other hand, fits under the media literacy umbrella. One dominant feature, which distinguishes news literacy from its longer-recognized counterpart, media literacy is the focus which is put exclusively on the deconstruction of news content and methods specific to the process of news production, which are not applicable to other types of media content (Kajimoto & Fleming, 2019).
The core mission of the news literacy curriculum is broadly recognized as “citizen empowerment” in that the critical thinking skills necessary to the evaluation of news reports and the ability to identify fact-based, quality information and encourage active participation and engagement among well-informed citizens. News literacy training has been traditionally conducted under the umbrella of media literacy, however especially after the increased global concerns over “post-truth” media consumption and the “fake news” phenomena news literacy curriculum, on its own, has become part of academic discourse in different disciplines (Kajimoto & Fleming, 2019).
News literacy is sometimes narrowly framed as the transfer of verification skills so consumers can check facts and sources and identify misinformation. While these are valuable outcomes of news literacy education, knowledge and skills that make someone news literate compose a broader framework (Tully, Maksl, Ashley, Vraga & Craft, 2021, p. 3). For instance, news literacy education helps people identify partisan misinformation and be sceptical of news they encounter, and encourage scepticism toward political conspiracy beliefs. Developing scepticism toward news and information is paramount to distinguishing high-quality content from low-quality or false information (Vraga & Tully, 2021, p. 154)
Issues which should be focused in a news literacy curriculum are indicated by Farmer (2019, p. 5) as follows: the power of reliable information and the free flow of information, the mission of the press and its relation to government, how journalists work and make decisions, the impact of digital revolution and news media structural changes on news consumptions, news and reader responsibilities and why news and its literacy matters (Farmer, 2019, p. 5).
The detailed investigation and the understanding of the news landscape which is presented in this part of the MOOC, help us to compose a list of subjects to address within a comprehensive news literacy curriculum: distinguishing between journalism and other information providers, distinguishing between news and opinion, distinguishing news versus sponsored content, identifying ads, distinguishing between assertion versus verification, distinguishing between evidence and inference, deconstructing news based on evidence and source reliability, distinguishing between news media bias and audience bias, identifying reliable sources of information, determining suitable and reliable search strategies, determining the trustworthiness of social media postings, explaining why sponsored content might not be reliable, determining the trustworthiness of a photograph, determining the reliability and accuracy of sources, reading and thinking critically, identifying the author/creator of a source, identifying bias (Farmer, 2019, p. 5-7), sifting fact from falsehood, managing algorithms, bursting filtre bubbles and reaching beyond echo chambers, recognizing traps in arguments, understanding search-engine rankings and of how algorithms filter the content, developing fact-checking abilities, and getting familiar with fact-checking platforms/services and recognizing their limitations.
Match the following concepts with their definitions.
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Bawden, D. (2001). Information and digital literacies: A review of concepts. Journal of Documentation, 57(2), 218-259.
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Vraga, E. K. & Tully, M. (2021). News literacy, social media behaviors, and skepticism toward information on social media, Information. Communication & Society, 24(2), 150-166.
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