The News Literacy Toolkit has been created to help librarians meet public interest in media literacy quickly and confidently. Collected inside are a variety of resources which will allow the programming librarian to hit the ground running with programming ideas, activities, infographics, presentations, and other content. Types of resources are listed at the bottom of this page, and a PDF version of the News Literacy Toolkit may also be downloaded for your reference.

The content revolves around five key media literacy concepts which we have defined in depth:

Key Concepts

The Changing Media Environment

In the focus groups which were held to develop this toolkit, a common wish from users was to have a better understanding of how the media “works.” Why we see what we see. Where it comes from. How it is delivered. And who pays for us to see it.

There is a common perception that previous eras of media and journalism were more direct and straightforward. The idea goes that trusted news sources gathered facts through careful reporting and due diligence and delivered them through a limited number of mediums. While this is overly simplistic in it’s rosey view of the past, there is some truth there. People had fewer providers to choose from and more trust in the content those providers delivered (See Gallup Poll: In U.S., Confidence in Newspapers Still Low but Rising)

The modern media ecosystem is very different. It is multifaceted, ever present, and can be overwhelming. Helping people understand the current state of media and journalism is one of the first steps in assisting people in thinking more critically about the information they encounter.

In the toolkit, we have attempted to include resources that will clarify the types of media users will see and how they relate to the larger information ecosystem.

Fact vs. Opinion and “Fake News”

In a perfect world, news would always be grounded in fact. But with 24 hour news channels relying heavily on commentator analysis, partisan blogs displayed in newsfeeds alongside more objective journalism without distinction, and advertising money complicating everything, understanding what is fact, what is opinion, and what is fabricated can be difficult.

According to a Pew Report survey conducted in late Fall 2016, 59% of those surveyed want their news to be solely factual and without interpretation or opinion. However, that’s not necessarily the news they are seeing on a regular basis depending on what their media consumption habits are. In the focus groups we held, this desire for factual information was reiterated but there was also a concern that they needed help in knowing how to sort fact from opinion when it is not obvious.

Similar to the concept of fact vs. opinion, determining what is considered “fake news” has also become a worry for many patrons. In the wake of the 2016 elections, the news was filled with stories about Macedonian “fake news factories,” profiles on fake news authors, and a general panic that everyone in our newsfeed was sharing fictional stories. Adding to the confusion, the term “fake news” is now used by politicians and pundits to attack and discredit legitimate journalism which is unfavorable to themselves or their views. Learning how to find “quality news” was a desired skill set according to our focus groups.

Evaluating Information and Verifying Claims

Evaluating information and verifying claims is a vital concept in learning how to critically engage with news sources. It also requires more effort from the user in order to be successful, but these skills are the heart of being an informed news consumer.

This section will be the most familiar to librarians as we frequently discuss these topics when helping patrons find information. It’s not just about recognizing organizations which provide quality information, but examining the content within those articles to confirm they are established facts or have corroborating information which supports their findings.

Rumors and hoaxes abound on the internet. We’ve included information on fact checking services and other tools that will help people determine if the eye catching headlines they are reading are founded in reality or alternate realities.

Determining Bias

Media bias and personal bias greatly affect how we engage with informational content. Being unaware that media is biased or the ways those biases manifest could cause someone to have a particular lens or filter in how they perceive the world they live in. Similarly, believing media is biased without being able to qualify that bias (or wrongly identifying it) can lead to accidentally discounting quality information.

Personal biases are also relevant to this conversation. Two people can read the same story and come to different conclusions depending on their internal biases. We’ve included information in the toolkit to help people recognize their own biases and challenge them when engaging with news sources.

The Role of Social Media

According to a Pew Report entitled News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2017, two-thirds of adults get news from social media. However, unlike other news platforms or aggregators, social media newsfeeds are highly attuned to personal preferences yet are not fully controlled by the user. Due to this, there is an uncertainty about what content is showing up in a news feed and why it is appearing.
Helping users understand how social media is designed to serve us a variety of content is a critical concept in encouraging more informed new consumption. Some of the resources inside will discuss filter bubbles, advertising content, the attention economy, and other such concepts to better explain how social media affects the information we see.

News Literacy Toolkit was supported in whole or in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services or the California State Library, and no official endorsement by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services or the California State Library should be inferred.