Reynolds Wrap-Up

A day of discussion on digital authenticity and news literacy

On Monday morning I found myself on a bus in Columbia, Missouri heading to the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. Joining me on the ride were roughly thirty mostly young, and totally impressive journalists and community foundation folk. We were brought together for the strangely named Hardly Strictly Young gathering organized by David Cohn, the founder of Spot.Us and a current Reynolds Fellow.

Our job was to review some of the recommendations from the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy and make alternate suggestions about how to implement them. As Cohn explained on the event’s website and again in person, the event attendees “were chosen because they aren’t necessarily at the ‘centers of power’ but rather are building their own centers of power or influence. They are change agents.”

I felt the way I did many years ago when my name was mistakenly put on the list for an elite youth soccer team. I think I played two games—well, sat for two games—before it was apologetically explained that a mistake had been made. This time, I managed to stick around before anyone realized I didn’t belong on the list.

While riding to RJI, a few attendees seated near me began to discuss the fact that bestselling author Greg Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea, was the latest example of a true story that turned out to be less than totally true. It was a reminder of the failings of fact that have always existed in traditional publishing. We soon found ourselves immersed in the authenticity challenges posed by the new world of online information.

The morning’s work began with us Hardly Strictly Young-sters splitting off into small groups to discuss the Knight Commission’s recommendations, including the edict to “integrate digital and media literacy as critical elements for education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state, and local education officials.” This fit perfectly with my recent post for the Carnival of Journalism, Bullshit Detection 101: Why universities need to teach the new literacy.”

My group focused on the fact that people of all ages and levels of education lacked essentials skills to identify quality information, to evaluate sources and to determine the provenace of data and information. We came up with this recommendation:

Fund a two-year program to find a network of middle school and high school teachers who are already integrating media literacy into their curriculum. Highlight the best work being done.

Build an online community for these educators to connect and exchange ideas and best practices; create a free central online resource that showcases the best of their work using video, teaching guides and other resources.

Fund the creation of case studies, lesson plans, and plug-and-play kind of tools (handouts, games, exercises) that could be used in a variety of curricula. Offer incentives for teachers to take part and to get recognized for their work.

Our group also settled on one concrete idea for teaching media literacy, which came from Cody Brown:

As a practical exercise: have a class adopt a Wikipedia page for a school year.

As the day wore on, we moved to new groups and tackled different recommendations. Yet discussions always seemed to reference the difficulties involved with helping people find and judge quality news and information, along with significant challenges such as the lack of Internet access in rural and isolated communities.

Tuesday came and it was time for each group to present their recommendations. You can read a summary that was produced by Christopher Wink, a Philadelphia journalist and entrepreneur. (Wink demonstrated great confidence by starting a slow-clap for himself before he presented for one of his groups. Ah, to be hardly strictly young and full of Philly bravado…)

While we stood up to present new ideas and proposals, news broke that the FTC had sued several fake news websites that were created to pitch acai berry diet products and colon cleansers.

“In the digital world, the line between professional journalism, advertising and other types of content are getting blurred,” noted paidContent.

The offending sites used newsy sounding domain names——and the logos of real news organizations to sell their wares and confuse customers.

“You really have to question everything you see on the web …” reported the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Oh, wait. That was quote was actually related to a different story from Tuesday—the one where a spoofed URL leading to a news story fooled lots of folks, including the Nieman Journalism Lab and Slate. From Paul Carr at TechCrunch:

A story from the UK’s Independent newspaper that started out with this URL…

…went viral, after a prankster tweeted it out as…

(Both URLs work just fine.)

Embarrassingly, and amusingly, several news organizations including Slate and Nieman itself, fell foul of the prank, assuming that it reflected an error at the Independent.

The FTC lawsuits and URL spoof error seemed perfectly timed to remind us of the urgency of the authenticity issue, and the significance of the challenge.

Maybe should have called the gathering Hardly Strictly Easy—as in to solve.

Correction of the Week

“A report on the latest attack on Andres Serrano’s controversial work Piss Christ inadvertently referred to the late US Republican Senator Jesse Helms as Jesse James (Hit with a hammer and slashed with an ice pick. Anti-blasphemy attack on Piss Christ, 19 April, page 3).” - The Guardian

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Craig Silverman is the editor of and the author of Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. He is also the editorial director of and a columnist for the Toronto Star. Tags: , , ,