It’s a new school year and this is the latest installment of a weekly feature I have been running for some time on this blog — lessons from the nonprofit News Literacy Project, which aims to teach students and the public how to sort fact from fiction in our digital and contentious age.

The News Literacy Project was founded more than a decade ago by Alan Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter at the Los Angeles Times, and it has become the leading provider of news literacy education. You can learn more about the organization and its resources and programs in this piece.

The material in this post comes from the organization’s newsletter for educators, The Sift, which has more than 23,000 subscribers. Published weekly during the school year, it explores timely examples of misinformation, addresses media and press freedom topics, discusses social media trends and issues and includes discussion prompts and activities for the classroom. Get Smart About News, modeled on The Sift, is a free weekly newsletter for the general public.

The News Literacy Project’s browser-based e-learning platform Checkology, helps educators to teach middle and high school students how to identify credible information, seek out reliable sources, and know what to trust, what to dismiss and what to debunk.

It also gives them an appreciation of the importance of the First Amendment and a free press. Checkology, and all of NLP’s resources and programs, are free. Since 2016, more than more than 37,000 educators in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 120 other countries have registered to use the platform. Since August 2020, more than 3,000 educators and more than 125,000 students have actively used Checkology.

Here’s material from the Oct. 18 edition of The Sift:

NEW: The Sift’s viral rumor rundown is now also a blog! You can find all of the rumors from this year’s issues — complete with filterable tags to help you locate examples by topic or rumor type — at rumors.newslit.org. Let us know what you think!

Dig deeper: Don’t miss this week’s classroom-ready resource.

Top picks

1. Two journalists known as crusaders for freedom of expression and holding the powerful to account in countries hostile to the press have won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee noted in its announcement that Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia are “representatives of all journalists” in a time when “democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.” The committee honored Ressa, the CEO and co-founder of Rappler, an independent news website in the Philippines, for her work “to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country” amid the Rodrigo Duterte regime. The committee also highlighted Ressa and Rappler’s efforts to document “how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.” Ressa shares the award with Muratov, a founder and editor in chief of the independent Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta. According to the committee, the news organization’s fact-based reporting and critical watchdog coverage have prompted critics to respond with harassment and violence. Six Novaya Gazeta journalists have been killed since its founding in 1993.

Related:

Dig Deeper: Use this think sheet to help students consider why awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists is significant.

2. Recent debate over an ESPN reporter’s decision to share a 2011 story draft with a source prior to publication and to ask for suggestions and approval offers important takeaways on the role of journalism standards in safeguarding editorial independence. Journalists generally view sharing unpublished article drafts with sources, even to fact-check, as a serious ethical lapse. Many newsrooms follow guidelines similar to those found in the New York Times’ handbook on Ethical Journalism, which notes that journalists should “cover the news as impartially as possible — ‘without fear or favor,’” regardless of any interests involved — including sources.

  • Discuss: In a statement, ESPN reporter Adam Schefter said that he shared the “full story in advance because of the complex nature” of the topic, adding, “It was a step too far and, looking back, I shouldn’t have done it.” How could Schefter have verified key facts in the story without sharing a full draft with a source? How could sharing the draft compromise the story’s credibility? Do you think sources would try to change information in a story, if given the chance? Why is it so crucial for journalists to protect their editorial independence in the reporting and editing process?
  • Idea: As a class, connect with a local journalist using NLP’s free Newsroom to Classroom volunteer directory for their thoughts on how to balance accuracy and editorial independence. How do they verify information from sources that they’re unsure about? Has a source ever asked to see a full story prior to publication? How did they respond to the request? Ask about their newsroom’s journalism standards and ethics.

3. A start-up that created 22 fictional TikTok personalities with nearly 2 million followers and more than 280 million video views says it doesn’t want to trick people. But some critics worry about the ethical implications of this type of “FictionalTok” activity. Some characters interact with users in comments, and the company plans to generate revenue through advertising, merchandising and tickets to online events.

  • Discuss: Are TikTok accounts of actors sharing posts about fictional life unethical, even if their posts and bios are labeled as fiction? What is the motivation to build such accounts? Do you think that the companies and people behind fictional TikTok videos are being as transparent as possible? Why is this transparency important?

Related:

Kickers

  • A renewed push is underway to examine diversity in newsrooms — but measuring “real progress is proving elusive.” While some signs point to the vaccination racial gap narrowing, a study found that the reason for lower vaccination rates among Black Americans is complex — a combination of unequal access, historically rooted distrust of institutions and less effective actions from tech companies.
  • “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver recently urged social media platforms, including WhatsApp and WeChat, “to do something about all forms of misinformation whether they are in English or not,” calling much-needed attention to misinformation among immigrant communities. New research suggests that YouTube’s tougher policies on election falsehoods were soon followed by notable decreases in election misinformation on Facebook and Twitter, highlighting the interconnected nature of social media platforms.
  • A Filipino illustrator is using comics to help teach people what to do when they see false information online. And a new game from researchers at Penn State University called “ChamberBreaker” aims to help players avoid information echo chambers.