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October 2014

President's Message

Dear NLP Friends and Supporters,

Earlier this year, one of our funders called us “a small organization with a very large footprint.”

That footprint is about to get bigger.

Next month we begin a series of online professional development workshops for educators. In December, we will offer our first open-access digital unit. Both steps will continue to raise our profile as a source of compelling educational materials available to anyone, anywhere in the world.

We’re not just getting bigger; we’re getting better.

The focus of this month’s Spotlight feature is “Democracy’s Watchdog,” a classroom lesson introduced this fall. This core NLP lesson uses four examples of outstanding investigative reporting to give students an understanding of the role of the free press in a democracy and its connection to the First Amendment.

The video features our innovative videoconferences that connect a prominent journalist with students in all of our regions. The piece was produced by Chicago Public Schools to highlight one of the most successful uses of digital technology in the third-largest district in the nation. 

NLP News looks at two new partnerships and at the kind of support that makes our progress possible, and our profile is of a Chicago student who says that NLP has given him greater appreciation of the news media as well as skills that “will prove invaluable in my future as a student and citizen.”

Even as we dramatically expand our reach, that kind of impact will remain our lodestar.

As always, thank you very much for your interest and support.

All the best,


Alan C. Miller








This video, produced by Chicago Public Schools, focuses on NLP’s videoconferences, which connect schools in each of our regions with a featured journalist. The video highlights best practices for using the school district’s videoconferencing platform and encourages greater use of education technology

NLP Calendar

Teaching News Literacy, NLP’s new series of online professional development workshops for teachers across the United States, begins Nov. 12. The first session offers an overview of the field of news literacy. Additional topics include “Exploring Bias” on Dec. 10, “News Literacy and Civic Engagement” on Jan. 14 and “21st-Century Trends, Tools and Skills” on Feb. 18. Educators can register here for the series ($95) or for individual sessions ($30 each).

Dana Ballout of Al Jazeera America works with students earlier this year at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Md. Photo by Maureen Freeman

NLP News
New Funding and Partnerships

Support for NLP continues to grow with the announcements of two new grants and two significant partnerships.

AT&T is providing $35,000 to develop an app to support NLP’s ambitious digital unit 2.0 (scheduled for release at the start of the 2015-16 school year). And thanks to a $15,000 grant from HBO, NLP’s collaboration with the cable network’s “Young Media Minds” program and partnership with De La Salle Academy and other schools in New York City will continue in the 2014-15 school year.

In addition, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation has approved two two-year grants to fund national initiatives that include NLP as a major partner.

The first grant will enable NLP to work with Facing History and Ourselves to develop a new curricular module for the respected international nonprofit education organization. This effort will focus on the choices that editors, producers and reporters made in deciding what news to cover and how to report it in the context of such 20th-century historical events as the genocide in Rwanda and the U.S. civil rights movement. It will also teach students to reflect on the choices they make in deciding what news and information they consume, believe and act on.

The second grant will support the National Community and News Literacy Roundtables project. NLP is partnering with the American Society of News Editors and the American Press Institute to produce a series of roundtables in dozens of local communities focusing on “hot button” issues. The roundtables will serve as a springboard to provide these communities with news literacy tools and training.

The roundtables initiative is seeking a project manager. Applicants can learn more here.

Both partnerships represent new ways for NLP to help bring news literacy education to scale. We are grateful for this support, which will help us continue to grow in our major markets and nationally.

NLP Spotlight
“Democracy’s Watchdog”: New NLP Lesson Focuses on Investigative Reporting and the First Amendment

Students learn about Nellie Bly’s pioneering investigative reporting in NLP’s new classroom lesson, “Democracy’s Watchdog.”     Students at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., complete worksheets in September during the NLP lesson “Democracy’s Watchdog.”
Photo by Maureen Freeman

As Cristo Rey New York High School students discussed a “60 Minutes” report about a black man wrongly convicted of armed robbery by an all-white jury in Texas and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole, they began to make connections between the First Amendment and the watchdog role of a free press.

Without that report, a student concluded, “Nobody would have known or cared.”

These students were among the first to dig into NLP’s newest classroom lesson, introduced this fall. Titled “Democracy’s Watchdog,” this lesson explores the importance of a vigilant free press by bringing to life four case studies of notable investigative reporting:

  • Nellie Bly’s undercover reporting in 1887 about a hospital for the mentally ill;
  • The Washington Post's iconic coverage of the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s;
  • The “60 Minutes” report in 1983 that led to overturning the wrongful conviction of Lenell Geter; and
  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s groundbreaking investigative series in 1988 that exposed racially biased mortgage-lending practices.

The lesson employs the “jigsaw method,” in which students are initially assigned to two groups: “expert” and “jigsaw.” First, students are divided into four expert groups to learn as much as possible about a single case study. They then reassemble to share what they learned in their jigsaw groups, made up of experts from each of the four case study groups. This enables students to master a significant amount of material in a short time through peer teaching.

The lesson ends with the entire class reflecting on how the outcomes in each case — and democracy itself — would have been different without a free press.

Students have embraced this lesson. At DePaul College Prep in Chicago, students subsequently told their teacher that they wanted to watch “All the President’s Men,” the movie depicting the Watergate reporting of the Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

In New York, students “found the cases very interesting and enjoyed discussing with their classmates the reliance of each case on the First Amendment,” said Stephanie Mueth, an English teacher at Cristo Rey. “It was an intriguing lesson for the students, which allowed them to think critically and creatively.”

Camden Cortes (right), a student at DePaul College Prep in Chicago, speaks with Tim Franklin, president of The Poynter Institute, during a student panel at the recent News Literacy Summit in Chicago. Photo by Mary Owen

NLP Profile
Camden Cortes: Making the Effort to Identify Quality Sources of Information

Just a few weeks into DePaul College Prep’s first-ever news literacy class, junior Camden Cortes said that the way he consumes news has changed dramatically.

“This class opened up my eyes to be able to identify quality sources of news,” Cortes, 17, said during a student panel that kicked off the first day of the national News Literacy Summit in Chicago last month.

“I am now able to identify quality sources of news and have gained a greater appreciation for the media,” he added. “This program has encouraged me to fact-check statements and make the extra effort to identify quality sources of information while consuming news."

DePaul College Prep is one of four Chicago high schools offering semester-long news literacy classes this fall under a grant to NLP from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Prior to the class, Cortes said, he had no idea how to distinguish between accurate, verified information and biased, incomplete or false information. He said he is confident that the skills he has learned through NLP “will prove invaluable in my future as a student and citizen.”

Cortes’ teacher, Rebecca Orr, said that her students have become more skeptical consumers of news and better researchers as a result of the class.

"They don’t take everything that I give them to read at face value anymore,” Orr said. “They are questioning. And that’s something I try to get all of my students to do.”

THE NEWS LITERACY PROJECT (NLP) is an innovative national educational program that mobilizes seasoned journalists and works with educators to help middle school and high school students sort fact from fiction in the digital age.

Click here to learn more about NLP and visit NLP's YouTube channel.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to support NLP, you can do so here.

NLP thanks its major funders and all those whose support makes our program possible.

Copyright (c) 2014 The News Literacy Project. All rights reserved.

The News Literacy Project
5525 Devon Road
Bethesda, MD 20814


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