If ever there’s been a poster child for why news matters —and unfortunately why so often it doesn’t — it is the series of reporting events that began last week with the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and continue as I write.
In the rush to be first at each phase of the story, we’ve seen all kinds of false and sloppy information polluting the already overcrowded news and information streams on Twitter, in newsprint and elsewhere. You can read Gwen Ifill’s take on it: When getting it first trumps getting it right as well as a Tweet loaded piece by writer Choire Sicha for The Awl, where she called out several social journalism colleagues: Is your social media editor destroying your news organization?
Farhad Manjoo of Slate weighed in with this sage advice in Breaking News is Broken:
When you first hear about a big story in progress, run to your television. Make sure it’s securely turned off.
Next, pull out your phone, delete your Twitter app, shut off your email, and perhaps cancel your service plan. Unplug your PC.
Now go outside and take a walk for an hour or two.
That sounds about right. That’s how bad it was.
If breaking news is broken, how do we fix it?
Journalists need to “have a filter between their ears and mouths — or eyes and keyboard,” as a colleague said on a private message board today. But the fact is all of us — not just journalists — must develop filters so we can cull the news from the noise and better understand events and issues. To the degree that we’ve improved our ability to vet the quality of information that is presented to us, we’ll add value to the story when we make a contribution on the comments page, the Twitter feed or anywhere else on the social Web.
That’s one reason why the McCormick Foundation’s Why News Matters grant-making program is so badly needed.
How do we learn to choose news over noise?
Why News Matters seeks to heighten news literacy skills in the Chicago area and beyond. The foundation will be investing as much as $6 million in promising innovative ideas that could make a difference in our ability to think critically about the information we are swimming in as well as distributing.
What’s news literacy?
It’s the set of critical thinking skills that enable citizens to judge the reliability and credibility of news reports and information sources.
McCormick says news literacy programs provide:
A frame of reference to distinguish fact from fiction, opinion or propaganda
An understanding of the First Amendement, the role of a free, independent media and the importance of journalistic values
A curiosity to seek information and better understand communities, national and international affairs
Help in navigating the myriad sources of digital information in a more skeptical and informed manner
A foundation for exercising civility, respect and car ein the exchange of information
Here’s some news literacy initiatives that McCormick has been funded to date.
Do you have an idea that could fit in? If so, get with your partners soon and write a Letter of Inquiry. Read McCormick’s FAQ. Do it soon.
Letters are due to McCormick by May 8.