A week to reflect on your ability to evaluate news
By Jim Slusher
The Daily Herald is a reliable source of information about suburban communities and state and national issues and events, but you won't find a single person in the company who would tell you it should be your only source for this information. Indeed, rarely in our memory has it been more important than now to seek out multiple news sources and use discerning judgment in evaluating the reports you see and hear.
That theme is being emphasized this week as the News Literacy Project and the E.W. Scripps Co. combine to sponsor the second annual News Literacy Week observance.
When we think of the word literacy, we generally assume it refers to the ability to read. But there is more to reading than just understanding the words on a page, and when it comes to following current events -- whether through print, broadcast or social media -- true literacy involves serious critical thinking and analysis.
Perhaps you think you're pretty good at this kind of thinking about the news. Maybe you're concerned about some of what you hear and read and want some strategies to help you make better sense of things. Whatever your circumstance, you can find out just how sophisticated you are at evaluating the news as well as some strategies for improving your critical thinking at the News Literacy Project/Scripps website for News Literacy Week.
The site has special value for students and young people who are just becoming introduced to the complex, often conflicting realm of news reporting, but it is just as engaging for a typical adult who has been following current events for years. Indeed, it may even offer some challenges to the thinking of veteran news hounds.
For instance, how familiar are you with the ethical standards that govern the work of news photographers? Or the rules that responsible news organizations apply when deciding whether to use anonymous sources? Or the difference between columnists and reporters or between advertising and news content? Test yourself with a quiz on your news literacy at the site.
Other quizzes -- many using examples as recent as the Jan. 6 incursion at the Capitol and as topical as COVID-19 awareness -- can test how astute you are about sharing items you see on social media, your familiarity with the First Amendment or your ability to thoroughly evaluate data in news stories or social media posts.
In an age when news outlets as diverse as One America News, Fox News and MSNBC unrepentantly portray news events from a distinct political point of view and purposely misleading social media posts can lure mobs to attack the U.S. Capitol, the need for people to be able to separate fact from fiction, truth from emotion or hard analysis from wishful thinking cannot be overstated. This is a week for all of us -- news agencies as well as news consumers -- to reflect on the judgments that go into reporting news events and to renew our commitment to report and to judge reports responsibly. Give these ideas some thought this week as you read newspapers, follow social media or watch broadcast reports. And if you want to have some fun while challenging your own skills and biases, take a look at newslit.org/news-literacy-week/.