Online only, so far

A media literacy workshop at the NUJ

Children need lie-detectors

MEDIA literacy and how to encourage it - particularly among "yoof" - was the theme of an NUJ event to celebrate Media Literacy Week 2019, which started on 18 April.

The panel

From left: Angie Pitt, Catherine Deveney, Kate Morris, Lucie Spicer and Janette Ballard. Yes, an all-female panel!

Opened by NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet, the event included speakers with extensive experience of working to promote media literacy skills. Michelle noted that the NUJ, with its strong Codes of Conduct, is keen on forging links with "schools and colleges... something that the NUJ... wants to build on and develop".

Kate Morris, former assistant news editor with the i paper and now teaching and researching news literacy at Goldsmiths, University of London, says the real challenge with today's degree students is to get them interested in news. They'd rather be writing opinion pieces, she says. A big proportion of respondents to the Cairncross Review (into the sustainability of high-quality journalism), she noted, felt that money should not go to journalism because "we don't trust them." A Reuters Institute survey showed that 58 per cent of respondents were worried about fabricated news, but they struggled to find actual examples of it.

She cited one case of misinformation - the widely circulated "fact" that more children die from suicide in UK than of any other cause. Our bullshit detectors tell us this obviously cannot be true, and a quick look at the Office of National Statistics shows that "it's cancer". The problem we face today is one of information overload - we can no longer recall where we read the information (and misinformation) we receive.

Clickbait critique

Kate listed some of the challenges facing publishing. With ad revenues tanking, content "they know is going to generate clicks" gets priority. She recalled at the Indy a story that was clearly in the public interest, about murky goings on at Westminster. Its author was told they had got "to do better" because someone else on the paper "rewrote something about the Kardashians" that "got more clicks". Trust in journalism is "constantly being undermined by click-bait stuff". We need to "re-energise the public" and create "demand for good quality news".

Angie Pitt is project director at the Guardian Foundation's NewsWise project for 9 to 11-year-olds. It's funded by Google, the association for teachers of Personal Social Health and Economic education (PHSE) and the Guardian Trust. NewsWise work with schools nationwide: these pay nothing for their workshops and teacher training. Staff go into primary schools where some people have "never met anyone from London".

Teenage is too late

The term "fake news" is used by nine-year-olds, Angie says - trying to instil media literacy in teenagers "is too late". Even very young children hear news "in the car, on the radio" or see it at their local newsagents when buying sweets, but they're unable to process it. Even the very young have to make decisions about whether or not to share stories they've received via social media.

NewsWise also has an Education Centre with classrooms at the Guardian. Schools can come for free to learn how the news is made. They take "authentic newsroom experiences" to schools, with simulated newsrooms where children take on sub-editor and other roles. The simulated editor even "wears a visor".

Our job in the media...

Media literacy is "not just the job of the teachers - our job in the media to share our skills... to invite young people in to see what we do", says Angie. NewsWise's journalists go into school and talk about fact-checking and a day in their life. One of the students' favourite lessons with NewsWise is on the Windrush scandal: it formed part of a lesson about holding power to account. "Children like to discuss adult grown-up issues in a way accessible to them."

Janette Ballard manages the BBC's media literacy outreach project (formerly BBC Young Reporter) for 11-18-year olds. This has now expanded into other countries including Kenya, India and Brazil. Part of it is about fake news. The project trains 125 staff volunteers (including journalists) and community groups to go into schools for one-hour workshop, using open source resources available online via BBC Academy and supported by the BBC's Reality Check.

The core thinking around the BBC's project is "around stopping and checking, comparing with other news outlets, who you trust and why". They're in the process of getting their material evaluated - currently very little by way of media literacy materials are evaluated.

Lucie Spicer is education coordinator of Shout Out UK, which has a mission to boost young people's political engagement. They are into "political literacy" and they deliver six-week course all the way form Year 7, mostly in secondary schools. These include asking "What is power?" Brexit and Trump have changed things, says Lucie - now kids want to talk about politics.

Kids who Lucie works with tell her that, for example, "North Korea is going to bomb America, I got it from Snapchat" or "Kylie Jenner is part of the Illuminati". Children "are interested in these things, but don't have a platform to discuss them" other than through "funny memes to each other".

Facebook is history: meet SnapChat

They're "getting involved in politics but not actually having the skills to fact-check it". Facebook is history: for the kids it's all Kylie Jenner and the Sun via Snapchat and Instragram. One child told Lucie that they occasionally read freesheet Metro "when I can't get on my phone". The only journalist they can name is Owen Jones, and then only because of reaction he generates among the tabloid commentariat.

Get your phones out, fact-check the articles, Lucie teaches the young people she works with. She says that if we can allow kids that three-second "Oh, is that all right? Do I want to share these things?" moment, or better still if you can persuade them not to share rubbish, you are doing well.

Shout Out also works with prisoners and NEETs (people Not in Education, Employment or Training). Some of the latter group "could not write, didn't know who their MP was, didn't know what an MP was". One of the NEETs became really interested in "whether the media was biased against the disabled" when he found out his MP had "voted against every disability benefit" - he ended up writing a letter to the MP.

Catherine Deveney is a writer and novelist who has worked with NUJ Training Scotland on their media skills initiative. She was the only freelance at the event who has worked in media literacy - it seems at the moment to be mostly the preserve of staffers.(NewsWise would like to work with "other journalists".)

Critical skills development

Catherine worked on multimillion-pound media literacy projects in schools, first for the geographically huge Highlands and Islands region and then on a national project for Skills Scotland. The latter project includes training for two days on what is news, interviewing skills, the difference between news and features and "critical skills development" for teachers and students. There is an "ethical dimension as well" to these projects. Some teachers have described these as "the best in-service training of their career".

Part of the training involved students going "alone and getting a story in 20 minutes". Catherine described one student discovering her teacher's husband was terminally ill - and interviewing the teacher "with real professionalism after just two days' training".

Funding "is a problem", says Catherine. While there is Scottish government funding for these projects, in contrast to mean-spirited England, this tends not to be sustainable. It often finishes after a few years.

Enough with ‘fake news’

Catherine doesn't like the term "fake news", noting that Trump, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pope Francis use it to describe reports they don't like, especially revelations about clerical child abuse in the case of the Pope.

We heard of a News Literacy Network that exists to share best practice in the field. The Irish newspaper industry sponsors a News Literacy Scheme in that country.

Disappointment was expressed at the attitude to news literacy at the Department for Education (which effectively covers England). It says news literacy is already being done in schools through IT - where students learn about search engines - and through "critical thinking" taught in history, English and IT. Our speakers and audience felt this was far from adequate.