News Co/Lab receives grant from Facebook Journalism Project

The Co/Lab will use the grant money to invest in projects to educate adults about media literacy

In a world where the term “fake news” is thrown around carelessly, a lab within ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication is working to increase news literacy ahead of the 2020 elections with the help of Facebook.

The News Co/Lab announced on Jan. 22 that it received a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, part of the company's $2 million investment to combat the spread of false information online.

The News Co/Lab was founded in November 2017 by Dan Gillmor and Eric Newton with the intent of researching media literacy and helping news producers and consumers alike apply news literacy. The Facebook Journalism Project helped fund the News Co/Lab in its early stages.

The grant money will go into two projects: a three-part video series created in collaboration with Arizona PBS and a massive open online course, or MOOC, that anyone with internet access can take for free. 

Both intend to help adults better understand the media environment and how to find credible sources.

Kristy Roschke, managing director of the lab, and Gillmor taught a MOOC in 2015 and will use some of the new grant money to enhance the content from the original MOOC by adding more interesting and entertaining elements to the course.

We plan to keep the course open kind of forever and add to it and have it change and grow as the world gets more or less crazy,” Roschke said. “There will be some election-related content but it's really...evergreen. This topic never gets old or stale.”

Roschke said the MOOC will be aimed primarily toward an adult audience to encourage news literacy in an older demographic and hopefully break bad habits. 

According to a study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, "on average, (Facebook) users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as the youngest age group." Roschke said this tendency is something News Co/Lab is trying to target.

She said people may unknowingly share false information for the sake of vanity or social need. 

“Stop and think before you share something because you can be sharing very bad information and contributing to panic or fear or anger that's not necessary,” Roschke said. 

Although the News Co/Lab mostly works to educate older audiences, she said younger students tend to overestimate their ability to distinguish facts from fiction as well.

“I would like journalism students to know that even though they're probably savvier than most in terms of being able to spot unreliable information, or knowing how to fact check something because that's just sort of what you learn when you learn the reporting process," Roschke said. "You don't actually learn how to fact check misinformation in your journalism classes,” 

Quinlyn Shaughnessy is a senior mass communication and media studies major who works as an intern and research aide at the News Co/Lab. She got involved after taking Roschke and Gillmor’s online digital media literacy course and is interested in getting involved with the new MOOC and video series.

She said the News Co/Lab is a place for people to learn new ideas and develop heightened media literacy, skills she said are crucial to future media consumption.

"The more open you are to new and different ideas and looking at things, the better off we'll be going into 2020.”

Roschke said the News Co/Lab aims to have the video series air on PBS in late spring to early summer of this year and expects the MOOC to begin in late summer. This will leave time for people to access the course and the video series before the presidential election in November 2020.

"What makes an election year important is that we're talking about the future of our society, the future of democracy, and if we don't know the difference between truth and falsehood, then we make choices potentially based on incorrect and deceitful information," Gillmor said. "So we need to all get better at this."

Correction: This story was updated on Feb. 11 to show that Roshke was not a founder of the News Co/Lab. She joined the lab in March 2018.


Reach the reporter at gforslun@asu.edu and on Twitter @GretaForslund.

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