It’s Carnival Time: Talking News Sources

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….

About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at He also edits part-time for with the NFL and college football network.
This entry was posted in Carnival of Journalism, Egypt Revolution, Social Media, Steve Fox, Twitter and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to It’s Carnival Time: Talking News Sources

  1. Why avoid the phrase media literacy? ( are you personally uncomfortable or unfamiliar with it) It’s been around alot longer than news literacy. News literacy is really a subset of media literacy. I teach media literacy at the K12 level. Many state’s teaching standards include media literacy, but they don’t include news literacy. News literacy will “catch on” and be taught but only when it gets onto the teachers’ radar screens (and into the teaching standards).

    • journalismprof says:

      Thanks for the inpute, Frank. I avoided the term “media literacy” in an attempt to get around the debate about what “media literacy” is or isn’t….which I guess was a little ambitious 🙂

      Call “news literacy” a subset of “media literacy” if that makes you feel better….I really don’t care what you call it. But don’t sit around waiting for someone to tell you to teach “news literacy.” It needs to be taught early and it needs to be taught often.


  2. grovesprof says:

    Nice post, Steve. I totally agree that it’s up to us as educators to impress upon our students consuming a vast array of news sources and voices. We are revamping our general-education curriculum at Drury, and I’m convinced our “news literacy” course (great term — I plan on shamelessly lifting it) needs to be a vital part of it.

  3. Pingback: Carnival Roundup No. 2: Increasing news sources #JCarn « Carnival of Journalism

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