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Twisting LeBron James’s words, a fake Saturn photo and other news literacy lessons

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James dribbles during the first half of a game against the Sacramento Kings on April 30. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

This is the latest installment of a weekly feature on this blog — lessons from the nonprofit News Literacy Project, which aims to teach students how to distinguish between what is real and what is not in this age of digital communication.

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 free for educators, students, school districts and parents. Since 2016, more than 29,000 educators and parents in all 50 states and the District of Columbia have registered to use the platform. Since August, more than 1,000 educators and parents and more than 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 Pulitzer Prize-winning former 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 it works with educators and journalists to teach middle school 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 this week’s Sift:

Viral rumor rundown

NO: LeBron James did not say he didn’t want anything to do with White people.

YES: In the first episode of the HBO show “The Shop” in 2018, James shared that he was initially wary of White people at his predominantly White Catholic high school in Akron, Ohio. YES: In telling this story on “The Shop,” James said [link warning: profanity], “When I first went to the ninth grade … I was so institutionalized, growing up in the hood, it’s like … they don’t want us to succeed … so I’m like, I’m going to this school to play ball, and that’s it. I don’t want nothing to do with White people. I don’t believe that they want anything to do with me.”

YES: The conversation went on to clarify that these initial feelings soon changed as sports and basketball created friendships.

Note: This misleading quote has gone viral several times before. It recently recirculated after James tweeted a photo of a police officer who was identified as firing the shots that killed Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, on April 20, along with the message “YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY.” James later deleted the tweet.

Also note: This “Entertainment Tonight clip includes footage of this quote in context that is more appropriate for classroom use.


NO: This is not a photo of Saturn.

YES: It’s an artistic rendering of the imagined view from the Cassini spacecraft during one of its final, close passes over Saturn in 2017.

Tip: Fake or doctored photos supposedly from space are a common type of “engagement bait” online.

Idea: Use a copy of this image (see the viral rumor example slides linked below) to teach students how to use a reverse image search to determine the original source for this image.

Resource: Reverse image search tutorial (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom).

News Goggles

Journalists sometimes speak their own language. From “lede” to “nut graf” and “dateline” to “byline” — it can be hard to keep track! We’ve introduced a lot of newsroom lingo in News Goggles this year.

This week, let’s take a look back and review some of these common key terms. See if you can spot them in news coverage.

★ Featured News Goggles resource: These classroom-ready slides offer a vocabulary review, discussion questions and a teaching idea.

Discuss: Were any of these terms completely new to you? Were any surprising? Do you think any of them are confusing? Will you start using any of the terms, such as “graf”?

Idea: Challenge students in groups to find examples of each term in news reports and share their findings with classmates.

Sift Pick

“Study: Conservative media drove belief of covid-19 conspiracies” (Brianna Keilar, CNN’s “New Day).

  • Note: This CNN report is based on a new study that examined whether a reliance on certain news sources and social media in the United States impacted people’s belief in covid-19 falsehoods.
  • Discuss: Why do you think “familiarity with information increases the likelihood that you think it’s accurate”? What kinds of false information have you encountered about the pandemic? What are some possible real-world consequences of believing covid-19 falsehoods? Can likes and shares of misinformation on social media cause harm?
  • Resource: “Conspiratorial Thinking” (NLP’s Checkology virtual classroom).