Editorial: Teaching news literacy can make students better citizens

There is plenty of fake news out there to consume, albeit much less of it in the principled press than some would have you believe.

But how do you know it when you see it? And how important is it that we are able to suss it out and halt its promulgation?

Thomas Jefferson was a staunch proponent of a free press, and given the choice between government and a free press he said he'd pick newspapers.

He announced that in an age when cities were awash with newspapers filled with opinion, bias and, yes, fake news.

Few readers had the wherewithal to discern what was wheat and what was chaff.

While it is much easier today for anyone to publish bogus information, readers also have many more tools with which to divine the truth.

We were encouraged this week by an Associated Press story that talked about a budding movement - from elementary school to college - to teach students how to distinguish between factual and fictional news - and why they should care.

Don't pass off this educational pursuit as a product of liberal bias in the schools: the internet is awash with fictional news from all across the political spectrum.

"It hasn't been a difficult topic to teach in terms of material, because there's so much going on out there," said Pat Winters Lauro, a professor at Kean University in New Jersey, who began teaching a course on news literacy this semester.

"But it's difficult in terms of politics, because we have such a divided country and the students are divided, too, on their beliefs. I'm afraid sometimes that they think I'm being political when really I'm just talking about journalistic standards for facts and verification, and they look at it like 'Oh, you're anti-this or -that.'"

Teachers are talking about which websites are credible, how to spot an impostor site, how to detect parody, how to separate opinion columns from fact-based reporting, how to determine the validity of photos and how to fact-check stories and memes with the help of sites like Snopes, PolitiFact and

The California legislature is considering a law that would require news literacy be mandated in schools.

There is real value in schools teaching news literacy as part of civics class. Suburban libraries already have picked up the mantle.

"When people start to distrust all news sources is when people in power are just allowed to do whatever they want, said Katie Peter, a high school student in suburban Buffalo, New York, "and that's very scary."

Yes, it is. So, there's real value in the schools helping students build the skills that will enable them to sort fact from fiction.

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