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ASU's Cronkite School set to launch news literacy program

The News Co/Lab is an educational program that focuses on helping people understand news in the digital age

"ASU and Facebook are working together to help educate people on news literacy." Illustration published on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017.

ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication is partnering with Facebook to launch a program, called the News Co/Lab, designed to combat the epidemic of fake news, a term that came to prominence with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

The program is a collaborative lab focused on helping people understand and engage in news and information.

Though in its early stages, plans for the program's first project are already underway.  The official start date is set for sometime between now and January, said Eric Newton, chief of innovation at Cronkite and a co-founder of the project.

The Cronkite school partnered with Facebook to create a news literacy working group at ASU in March 2017, Newton said. They held a meeting with experts from around the world who were looking for innovative ways to fight misinformation.

The project has officially announced two funders – Facebook and the News Integrity Initiative, Newton said. 

Newton worked for many years at the Knight Foundation in Miami and the Newseum in Washington, D.C., where he worked on many projects in an effort to explain why journalists do what they do. 

“Today, everyone is a part of the news media, because people no longer consume news as a passive audience," Newton said. "People distribute news through social media.”

One of the program's first projects is a partnership with The McClatchy Company in which representatives from the initiative will visit three newsrooms in different parts of the country, Newton said. The project will not only help educate the journalists in the newsrooms that they visit, but help the surrounding communities learn how to read news as well. 

Dan Gillmor, a professor of practice at the Cronkite School, founded the project with Newton.

“We are going to be doing experiments with partners and trying to improve news literacy and news awareness in a variety of ways,” Gillmor said. 

Gillmor wrote a book in 2009 called "Mediactive" that discussed digital media literacy and focused on helping people become both producers and consumers of media.

“(News literacy) is the ability to find, understand, share and create media in a digital world where we are surrounded and swimming in data and information,” Gillmor said.

He said everyday people are a critical part of the news cycle and that they could be better news consumers than they are currently. 

The Cronkite School isn’t the only organization that has collaborated with Facebook in the battle against fake news – the News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit national education program that teaches middle and high school students how to filter fake news, has joined the movement as well.

Peter Adams, the senior vice president for educational programs at the News Literacy Project, said the organization wants to help students navigate today’s digital landscape by providing resources for teachers and journalists to teach news literacy to the younger generation. He said the initiative has expanded since partnering with Facebook.   

Adams said that Facebook has a responsibility to its viewers to help them catch up with the innovations of the digital age.

“We are really focused on helping students understand all the new kinds of info that they are seeing and understand how things like algorithms work so they understand why they are seeing what they’re seeing,” Adams said. 

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