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Teaching the Internet Generation to Extract Reliable News from Onslaught of Digital Information
New paper examines Stony Brook University’s News Literacy course that teaches students “critical thinking skills of a journalist”

STONY BROOK, N.Y., July 24, 2014 – As the digital age began to forever change how news and information were transmitted, Stony Brook University School of Journalism faculty members considered the following challenge: “Could they create an educational model that would prepare the next generation of news consumers to navigate the new, emerging information ecosystem and discover for themselves what news was trustworthy?” They met this challenge by working with the University to create the nation’s first Center for News Literacy, which is the subject of new paper published by “The Brookings Institution” this month.

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James Klurfeld
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Howard Schneider

In the paper, Howard Schneider, Dean of Stony Brook’s School of Journalism, and James Klurfeld, Visiting Professor of Journalism at Stony Brook, both former editors at Newsday, examine the course’s approach and share their experiences over the past several years teaching students the critical vetting of the enormous amount of digital information they receive on a daily basis. The authors describe the first assignment of the course, which is a total news blackout for 48 hours by the students, followed by writing a short essay that describes their experience. Schneider and Klurfeld observed over time that the students’ lack of news awareness was not due to a lack of exposure to or consumption of news, but the inability to process the news they did consume.

To address the question of the course’s effectiveness, Schneider and Klurfeld share some of the results two independent studies, which have been recently completed. Preliminary findings of a comparison of students who did take the News Literacy course against those who did not show some positive outcomes. For example, the News Literacy students routinely consumed more news from more sources, rated keeping up with the news as more important, registered to vote in higher numbers, and could deconstruct some video news stories more effectively.

Over the past seven years since the introduction of the News Literacy course, nearly 50 other universities and colleges have adopted some or all of the Stony Brook News Literacy material. Additionally, other countries are inviting Stony Brook to teach the course at their universities. In 2013, Stony Brook was invited to send one of the News Literacy program professors, Richard Hornik, a veteran journalist with 24 years of experience at Time, Inc., to teach the course at the University of Hong Kong. Hornik, now Director of Overseas Partnership Programs for the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook, was subsequently asked to teach the course at the Communications University of China in Beijing.

The course also will be taught by host professors at Xiamen University in China, Higher School of Economics in Moscow, University of Tel Aviv, Queensland University in Australia, and at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland, which has expressed interest in establishing a Center for News Literacy for Eastern Europe. In Vietnam, News Literacy will be taught as a workshop.

“The ability of the next generation of citizens to judge the reliability and relevance of information will be a leading indicator of the public health of civil societies around the world,” said Hornik.

As News Literacy gains in popularity worldwide, the School of Journalism goal to teach 10,000 students on the Stony Brook University campus will be met in the upcoming semester (fall 2014). Schneider and Klurfeld extol its value.

“At its most basic,” they write, “the Stony Brook model advances the following proposition: At a time when the public perception of practicing journalists according to recent Gallup poll1 hovers somewhere between bankers and car salesmen, every student in America should acquire the critical thinking skills of a journalist.” 

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  Editor’s Note : The Fall 2014 News Literacy course is open for audit by any working journalist. For more information, please 631-632-6310 .

1Honesty/Ethics in Professions,” Gallup, December 5-8, 2013.