FIU’s news literacy courses taught by professor Fred Blevens are featured in a new book about the future of journalism that includes essays by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and prominent journalism leaders.
The June 2011 book, Page One: Inside The New York Times and the Future of Journalism, was edited by NPR reporter David Folkenflik. The book is the companion to the 2011 Andrew Rossi documentary Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times.
Folkenflik invited Blevens to contribute an essay about the news literacy courses he created for the Honors College and the Global Learning for Global Citizenship initiative. Other contributing writers include New York Times reporter Jennifer 8 Lee, former Miami Herald publisher and Knight Foundation CEO Alberto Ibarguen and Geneva Overholser, whose career spans the Des Moines Register, Washington Post and the New York Times.
Blevens is part of the national news literacy movement taking shape in universities and school systems around the country. News literacy aims to give people in the digital age the critical thinking skills to distinguish between verifiable news, spin, advertising, entertainment, propaganda and raw information.
“It goes to the core of the consumer being overwhelmed and overpowered by the amount of information they consume every day,” Blevens said. “Social media is a bigger and bigger part of it as time goes on.”
The movement was pioneered at Stony Brook University and is now being taught at about 20 universities around the country. A key concept is “actionable information,” or information you can act on. An example would be a forecast from the Weather Channel. Blevens’ courses encourage students to verify information and teach them how to do so.
Blevens’ essay highlights “How We Know What We Know,” the global information literacy course Blevens teaches for Global Learning. It also describes the Honors College yearlong seminar, News Literacy, which has enrolled students from 20 majors. “The success of the Honors College course laid the groundwork for News Literacy to become an essential element of the university’s “global learning” curriculum,” Blevens writes.
Blevens describes how last year’s Honors College class initiated a news literacy program in Sweetwater. “It was in the first year of this class that an older Cuban-American student approached me to volunteer his services in surveying the Sweetwater community and reaching out to recruit citizens,” Blevens writes in the book. “He brought family members into the community and engaged dozens of residents, pastors and merchants with a zeal that was both contagious and contagion.”
The effort of the Honors College students to educate the community about news literacy caught the attention of Folkenflik, who covers the media for NPR.
“People need to have critical capacity to assess the news coverage they are being provided, and to say, ‘What is the validity and credibility of the information?” Folkenflik said. “What Fred was doing is saying students can play a useful role in helping people understand this.”
Honors College Dean Lesley A. Northup said the class demonstrates how Honors seminars combine creative pedagogy, student-generated ideas, and pragmatic application.
“Fred Blevens’ class on news literacy is a great example of how Honors seminars engage students in hands-on, experiential learning based in research,” she said. “It also showcases how we are taking serious academics into the Sweetwater partnership. It’s a showcase class that students love and that we’re very proud of.”
Folkenflik said universities are stepping into a number of different roles in the changing media landscape. “Universities have a really important role in the sense that they are the place that fosters research and intellectual and other kinds of inquiry,” he said. “They can be an honest broker.”