by Alan C. Miller
I had left my 21-year career at the Los Angeles Times with the idea of connecting journalists and educators to teach middle school and high school students how to know what to believe in the digital age. Little did I know that I would become recognized as a founder of the field of news literacy — long before the advent of concerns about “fake news,” “alternative facts” and Russian disinformation.
I devoted considerable energy in those early years to explaining to anyone who would listen what news literacy was, to selling funders of journalism and education programs on why news literacy mattered, and to convincing often-stretched teachers that news literacy deserved a coveted place in their classrooms.
The landscape changed dramatically during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, when it became evident that pervasive misinformation — combined with the growing challenge of sorting fact from fiction — was a threat to the health of our nation’s democracy and to the safety of its citizens.
As one NLP board member asked me around that time: “So, how does it feel to be an overnight sensation after nine years of hard work?”
Clearly, the newfound limelight is helpful to our mission — but we have no time to bask in it. Given the formidable task at hand, we at NLP strongly feel “the fierce urgency of now.”
Fortunately, our early progress positioned us well to respond to the suddenly heightened demand for our services.
We used our in-person classroom and after-school programs as a sturdy foundation upon which to build our innovative checkology® virtual classroom. Since the platform’s launch in May 2016, more than 11,000 educators in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories and 83 other countries have registered to use it — making NLP the leading provider of news literacy education in the United States.
We’re now enlisting marketing partners to help us greatly extend its reach. We’re working on checkology® 2.0, an expanded and even more engaging version of the platform that will include an international press freedoms lesson and our first Spanish-language lesson. We also have plans for a mobile app — a creative game that complements the virtual classroom.
We’re making an impact on other fronts as well. Our weekly newsletter, The Sift, turns the latest viral rumors, hoaxes, conspiracy theories and ethical issues into teachable moments for nearly 9,000 educators. Our NewsLitCamps bring scores of teachers into a newsroom for a day of stimulating professional development with our staff and the news organization’s journalists. Our new website, coming this spring, will offer tools and resources for the general public as well as for educators.
This progress has been made possible by our many partners: dynamic teachers and school administrators nationwide; 33 participating news organizations and more than 400 volunteer journalist fellows who have delivered more than 750 lessons in person and virtually; our distinguished and devoted board and advisory committees; and, of course, the foundation, corporate and individual donors who have supported us so generously.
As we embark on our second decade, we have much work to do. With more than 26 million students in U.S. middle schools and high schools, we have a long way to go to achieve our aspiration of seeing news literacy embedded in the American educational experience.
We’re extremely grateful to everyone who has already joined us on this journey, and we offer a heartfelt welcome to future participants, partners and patrons. Our cause is worthy and our challenge great. Together, we look forward to the road ahead.