When race is relevant in headlines — and other news literacy lessons

The material comes from the project’s newsletter, the Sift, which takes the most recent viral rumors, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and journalistic ethics issues and turns them into timely lessons with discussion prompts and links. The Sift, which is published weekly during the school year, has more than 10,000 subscribers, most of them educators.

The News Literacy Project also offers a program called Checkology, a browser-based platform designed for students in grades 6 through 12 that helps prepare the next generation to easily identify misinformation. Checkology is available free to educators, students, school districts and parents. Since 2016, more than 29,000 educators and parents in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., have registered to use the platform. Since August 2020, more than 1,000 educators and parents and over 34,000 students have actively used Checkology.

You can learn more about the News Literacy Project and all of the educational resources it provides in this piece, but here is a rundown:

Founded more than a decade ago by Alan Miller, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at the Los Angeles Times, the News Literacy Project is the leading provider of news literacy education.

It creates digital curriculums and other resources and works with educators and journalists to teach middle and high school students how to recognize news and information to trust — and it provides them with the tools they need to be informed and engaged participants in a democracy. It uses the standards of high-quality journalism as an aspirational yardstick against which to measure all news and information. Just as important, it provides the next generation with an appreciation of the First Amendment and the role of a free press.

Here’s material from the Nov. 2 Sift:

In Oct. 26, Philadelphia police fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man who was holding a knife. Wallace’s death prompted protests that at times turned violent. News coverage of the fatal shooting called new attention to the ongoing debate in journalism over when to include race as a relevant detail, especially in headlines. This week, we’re going to compare three headlines on the incident and examine different approaches by news organizations to reporting on the role of race in this story.

★ Featured News Goggles resource: Classroom-ready slides offer annotations and questions on this week’s topic.

Here are key slides for this lesson:

From WPVI-TV, Philadelphia’s ABC affiliate:

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

From the Associated Press:

Discuss: Which of the three headlines do students think is the best? Why? If the class had to write a headline for this news event, what would it be? Would it include any references to race, either in reference to Wallace or the officers?

Note: Many news organizations follow the editing rules and language suggestions outlined in the Associated Press Stylebook. It includes entries about race-related coverage and offers this guidance: “Consider carefully when deciding whether to identify people by race. Often, it is an irrelevant factor and drawing unnecessary attention to someone’s race or ethnicity can be interpreted as bigotry. There are, however, occasions when race is pertinent.” In June, AP updated its style to capitalize Black “when referring to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context.”

Idea: Have students read this piece from AP, which explains the organization’s decision to capitalize Black, among other races and ethnicities, but not “white.” Do students agree or disagree with AP’s approach? Why? Consider sharing students’ feedback with AP here.

NO: Joe Biden did not confuse President Trump with former president George W. Bush as he spoke at his virtual “I Will Vote” concert and fundraiser on Oct. 25.

YES: During an interview with comedian and actor George Lopez at the event, Biden stammered in the middle of a sentence and said the name “George” twice in a halting sentence about Trump.

YES: An out-of-context clip of that moment went viral after it was shared by the Trump campaign along with the claim that Biden thought his opponent was Bush.

YES: The Today Show aired the misleading clip and uncritically reported on the gaffe without mentioning that Lopez was the interviewer.

Idea: Pair this rumor with the previous rumor to teach students about the power of out-of-context video, especially when shared by influential partisan accounts on social media.

Discuss: Why do you think misleading clips of political candidates speaking are such a common disinformation tactic? Are these kinds of rumors persuasive? Do they have other purposes, such as rallying supporters?

NO: The woman pictured in the top right of this TikTok video is not a “body double” standing in for first lady Melania Trump.

YES: It is Melania Trump.

This New York Times piece, published during Media Literacy Week (Oct. 26-30), asks students to weigh in on whether news and media literacy should be required at their schools, how they get their news and whether they have “ever fallen for misinformation or fake news of some kind.” Nearly 200 U.S. and international students posted responses as of Nov. 2. Brooks Edmonson, of Bryant High School in Arkansas, shared this: “With a class dedicated to teaching students this in school, students could learn to be more critical thinkers and be more careful on the internet. I know I would benefit from having a class like this, and I’m sure students all over the country would as well.”

Note: According to a 2020 report by Media Literacy Now, an advocacy group, 14 states have taken legislative steps to require media literacy education in schools. Florida and Ohio have the strongest requirements.

Discuss: Is media literacy taught in your school? Should your district create a course dedicated to this subject? Do you think school districts should make media literacy a requirement for graduation?

Idea: Ask students to research what, if any, media literacy requirements are in place in their local school district and in their state, and then have them post their responses to the New York Times piece. If students have a strong opinion on the question of a media literacy requirement, encourage them to submit an opinion piece to a local news organization, or to write a letter to their local elected state and school officials.

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