We hope this essay will provoke some new ideas about how to help people become more discriminating consumers of news. Our recommendations boil down to a few basic ideas:

  1. Journalists have a role to play in helping consumers become more discriminating. Being fluent as a news consumer is not only the responsibility of news audiences.
  2. Journalists can begin to help audiences become more discriminating by building and presenting content differently, in a way that explicitly displays and answers key questions reader may have — through boxes, billboards, and other elements placed on top of or alongside traditional narratives.
  3. The questions readers have may vary by story type — and identifying how different stories raise different questions is a critical step.
  4. We are proposing a new term for what has been called “news literacy.” Instead of literacy — which suggests one is either capable of competently understanding news or not — we think the concept of “news fluency” is more apt. It more accurately describes the challenge of news consumption and implies that both the communicator and the audience have roles to play.
  5. Finally, if journalists do begin to build their journalism differently in the ways we suggest, we believe there are host of benefits. First, news fluency can scale to all consumers of news, rather than being confined only to young people and only in certain classrooms. Second, news content will improve if journalists know they will have to show their work more explicitly. And, third, to the extent people see journalists becoming more audience-focused, it may help with the issue of trust in media, building on the work of others in that field.

We’d also like to hear from you. If you are intrigued by these notions, or have already taken steps in this direction, please contact us.

Our goal is to collect as much information as we can about these efforts, teach them, and build what we hope is a new path in the work around trust and audience-focused journalism.

Other groups working on related issues

Improving media literacy among children and adults in the U.S. has been a goal for many years. Because of concerns over digital misinformation and the declining trust in American media, related efforts have launched more recently. Here are just some of the organizations working in support of media literacy through a variety of projects and methods:

Center for News Literacy programs are “designed to help students develop critical thinking skills in order to judge the reliability and credibility of information.” Stony Brook University School of Journalism. Howard Schneider, executive director.

MediaWise is “aimed at helping middle and high school students be smarter consumers of news and information online.” Poynter Institute, Local Media Association, Stanford University, Google.

National Association for Media Literacy Education aims to “see media literacy be highly valued by all and widely practiced as an essential life skill for the 21st Century.”  Developed through the Partnership for Media Education, a public/private collaboration. Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, executive director.

NewsCo/Lab efforts are “aimed at helping the public find new ways of understanding and engaging with news and information.” Arizona State University. Dan Gillmor and Eric Newton, co-founders.

News Integrity Initiative examines “new ways to achieve news literacy, broadly defined.” CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

The News Literacy Project “helps young people use the aspirational standards of quality journalism to determine what they should trust, share and act on.” Alan C. Miller, founder and CEO.

The Trust Project is designed to help news organizations provide “truthful, verified news and information in a context that gives them meaning.” Santa Clara University Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Sally Lehrman, director.

Trusting News Project set out to answer “How do news consumers decide what information to trust, and how can journalists teach users to be smarter consumers and sharers?” Reynolds Journalism Institute. Joy Mayer, director.

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