McCormick Foundation, investing in news literacy



David Hiller
I'm not sure what "news literacy" is supposed to be. Is it a way for traditional media to stay in the game?

The Robert R. McCormick Foundation—now separate from but historically entwined with the Tribune Company—just announced that it's giving away $6 million over the next three years on a campaign "to expand innovative approaches to improving news literacy." The campaign's called "Why News Matters." The first $1 million in grants have been awarded. They'll fund news literacy programs in various Chicago-area schools and colleges.

"'Why News Matters' grantees will bring an entrepreneurial and collaborative spirit as we expand the reach and impact of news literacy," said the foundation's president, David Hiller, who formerly was publisher of the Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. "Together, we can foster a healthy, 21st Century democracy grounded in a free press and informed, active citizenry."

There was a time when if the free press didn't tell us we didn't know it, and that was a problem, as the free press didn't always get around to telling us some things and didn't want to tell us others. "News literacy" is a way of saying that the problem today is altogether different. "With today's explosion of media content," said the foundation as it announced its new initiative, "news consumers of all ages are often overwhelmed with information."

The announcement cited a recent study of American youth, "Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action." The youths surveyed were asked the question "Do you think people like you and your friends would benefit from learning more about how to tell if news and information you find online is trustworthy?" Eighty-four percent said yes.

You can almost hear the bugle sounding charge from the crest of yonder ridge. The MSM cavalry is galloping to the rescue.

The problem is real. One of my life's little pleasures is having horror stories e-mailed me (and everyone else) by brilliant but credulous friends who were just infected in the latest viral pandemic, my spending about ten seconds online establishing that the stories they spread are poppycock, and then my letting everyone know it.

Is the goal of news literacy to teach kids how to get along without the beaten-down MSM? Or is it to let kids know they need the MSM more than ever? I don't know. I'm just asking.

But as Frost might have put it:

What sites to trust? What sites to spurn?
And are you clueless where to turn?
Hey, we're still here. Discern, discern!

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