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The News Literacy Project Kicks Off in NYC Today with an Event Featuring CNN’s Soledad O’Brien

The News Literacy Project, an innovative national program that is bringing journalists into middle schools and high schools to help students learn to sort fact from fiction in the digital age, kicked off today with an event featuring CNN’s Soledad O’Brien at the Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The project will launch additional pilot programs later in February at the Facing History School on Manhattan’s West Side and Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md.

The New York Times, ABC News, USA Today and the CBS News program “60 Minutes” have enlisted with the project as participating news organizations. Reporters, editors, producers and correspondents from each organization are among more than 75 prominent journalists, including winners of print and broadcast journalism’s most prestigious awards, who have volunteered to serve as fellows. They are listed in the project’s online directory at www.thenewsliteracyproject.org.

The journalists will help give students the tools to appreciate the value of quality news coverage and to encourage them to consume and create credible information across all media. Students will learn how to distinguish verified information from unfiltered messages, opinion, advertising and propaganda — whether they are using search engines to find websites on a particular topic, assessing a viral e-mail, watching television news or reading a newspaper. The project is forging partnerships between active and retired journalists and social studies, history and English teachers. It will focus on the importance of news to young people, the role of the First Amendment and a free media in a democracy and the tools needed to discern reliable information. The project has developed original curriculum materials based on engaging activities and student projects that will build and reflect understanding and critical thinking skills. Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School is located at 157 Wilson Street (between Bedford and Lee) in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. One of the middle school’s teachers will begin teaching the project’s curriculum this afternoon. Journalists will make their initial presentations in classes next week.

Soledad O’Brien is an award-winning CNN anchor and special correspondent for the network’s Special Investigations Unit, where her in-depth reports have included the 2008 project “CNN Presents: Black in America.” She is also a member of the News Literacy Project’s board.

“Part of the job is to be a truthful witness to the things you see around you,” O’Brien told the students.  She said she seeks “to tell the stories to the best of my ability as fairly as possible."Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School enrolls about 250 students who are accepted by lottery and drawn from throughout New York City. All of the students are from minority groups; more than 80% qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The city Education Department ranked WCCS as one of its two top-performing charter schools in 2007. In addition to providing its curriculum, the News Literacy Project has arranged to have copies of The New York Times delivered to the school and will enlist journalists to help WCCS establish a student newspaper.

“We are so excited about the opportunity to partner our students with journalists,” said WCCS Principal Julie Kennedy, adding that the program will provide students with “important skills to become active and productive members of our intellectual community.”

The project is spearheaded by Alan C. Miller, a former investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times and winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. The board is chaired by Vivian Schiller, president and chief executive of NPR; John Carroll, former editor of the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, is vice chairman. The Poynter Institute for Media Studies is the project’s partner and nonprofit fiscal agent. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation are its two major funders.

Four major national journalism organizations have endorsed the News Literacy Project: the American Society of Newspaper Editors; the National Association of Black Journalists; the Asian American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. “This program will systematically address a significant gap in the educational community and is being conceived in a way that is both smart and strategic,’’ said Diana Mitsu Klos, senior project director for the American Society of Newspaper Editors. “Many baby boomers are in career transition. The news industry is in turmoil. This work has the strong potential to strengthen the ranks of the next generation of Americans who can recognize and demand quality journalism.”