The latest question from David Cohn (aka DigiDave) for the Carnival of Journalism centers on one of my favorite topics:  news sources. The question:

    What can you, as an individual or employee, do to increase the number of news sources?

One of Dave’s suggestions is to focus on Knight Commission recommendations.  As an educator, the recommendation that jumps out at me most is:  “Integrate digital and media literacy as critical elements of education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state and local education officials.”

Teaching students about news literacy (I’m going to avoid the “media literacy” phrase) is the single-most important thing educators across all levels can do.  News consumers not only need to know how to recognize good sourcing and good information, but more importantly, that consumption means visiting several news sources, to make sure you are getting all viewpoints and that the information is accurate.  Reading and consuming for depth is important but doing so for accuracy and diversity is equally important

News literacy needs to start in middle school and continue at the university level.  The era of depending upon one news source for accurate information is gone.  No longer is news consumption a matter of sitting down and watching the 6 o’clock news for a half hour or more and that’s it.  News consumption has evolved.  It’s now a continuous process and this  new generation of news consumers needs to be able to discern between what is news and reality vs. speculation and rumor.

During the first week of the Egyptian revolution, I found myself watching CNN on my television, while on my laptop I was watching the live feed from Al-Jazeera English and running a Twitter feed with a number of different feeds, including #egypt and #jan25.  When I told my students I was doing this, I received a few strange looks.  But in deciding to look at two news sources as sharply contrasting as AJE and CNN, I noticed some pretty distinct differences — not only in images that were being shown (which was fairly significant at points) but also in tone.  AJE was much more critical of the behavior of the U.S. government and after a while, CNN was squeezing in Egypt coverage in between checking in with the latest Lindsay Lohan updates.

And, while the speed of the Twitter feeds was blinding at first, I was able to discover a bunch of sources from the scene that gave me first-hand accounts of what was happening in Tahrir Square.  I also discovered the Twitter curation efforts by NPR’s Andy Carvin as well as the first-hand accounts of Mahmoud Salem, also known as ‘sandmonkey.’

These were real-time sources that I was not necessarily getting from Web sites of The Washington Post or The New York Times or the broadcast coverage of CNN.

What the coverage of the Egyptian revolution also pointed out is how the whole concept of ‘sourcing’ has changed.  In the past, news sources were the New York Times, CNN and NPR.  Now, I’m not necessarily looking for the organization — I want the individual.  Increasingly, it’s the personal brand that matters.  I may not be happy with the overall perspective of the New York Times, but I am going to look for Anthony Shadid’s work in my RSS feed, and Nick Kristoff’s personal accounts on Twitter and Facebook.  I may not be happy about the images being shown by CNN, but I am going to stop and listen to what Ben Wedeman has to say on air and I’m going to follow his Twitter feed.

So, the whole notion of sourcing has been turned on its head.  In large part, thanks to Twitter.

Twitter has become a great teaching tool for educators.  It allows us to get across the idea not everything that is reported or tweeted is true (see NPR, CNN and Gabrielle Giffords shooting) as well as the idea that you can go to Twitter feeds and get a vast array of perspectives on a news event like the Egypt revolution.

What can educators do to increase the number of news sources used and consumed by students?  Teach them about the Twitter….

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