News Literacy: From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg

The full News Literacy course, developed at Stony Brook University, organizes the material into 14 lessons that take students from the information revolution of Johannes Gutenberg's printing press to the Digital Age of Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook. Each lesson can stand alone or be easily integrated into your program.

Lesson 1: What is News Literacy and Why Does It Matter?

  • We are in the midst of an information revolution with an impact comparable to the one sparked by the invention of the printing press.
  • In the Digital Age it is up to news consumers, overloaded with information, to determine what is reliable and what is not. 


Lesson 2: The Power of Information

  • There is a universal need to receive and share information.
  • Some people will kill or risk death over the flow of information.
  • The battle to control information is timeless and universal.


Lesson 3: Freedom of the Press: Too Much or Not Enough?

  • The U.S. Constitution safeguards the role of a free press as a check on the power of government.
  • The American judicial concept of "no prior restraint" places the burden to publish responsibly on the press, with the understanding that journalists may face consequences for what they choose to publish.

Lesson 4: Know Your Neighborhood

  • One of the keys to determining if information is reliable is being able to identify what it is: journalism, advertising, publicity, propaganda, entertainment or raw information.
  • The blurring of the lines between these information neighborhoods is one of the challenges facing news consumers.
  • News is information of some public interest that is shared and subject to a journalistic process of verification, and for which an independent individual or organization is directly accountable. Those three attributes are represented in the acronym VIA, and all must be present to classify information as journalism.


Lesson 5: What is News and Who Decides?

  • News value is determined by four factors: Universal News Drivers, Editorial Judgment, The Audience, and Profits and Competition.
  • Universal News Drivers: Importance, Timeliness, Proximity, Magnitude, Prominence, Conflict, Human Interest, Change, Relevance, Unusualness.

Lesson 6: News or Opinion?

  • Responsible news outlets separate straight news and clearly labeled opinion journalism.
  • Language and tone can help news consumers distinguish news from opinion. 
  • The wall between news and opinion journalism helps protect a news organization's credibility.
  • Opinion journalism provides insight, challenges assumptions and helps you make a decision or judgment. 

Lesson 7: The Power of Images

  • Still images and video are powerful tools, not only for verification but also to distract or influence the perceptions of news consumers.
  • Responsible journalists are transparent about the source of images, the context in which they were produced and any efforts to digitally manipulate their presentation.

Lesson 8: Balance, Fairness and Bias

  • Responsible journalism aspires to be fair to all sides of a story and to the facts themselves.
  • Balance is making sure all sides in a conflict are given the same amount of time or space when the truth or outcome is unknown. In other instances, though, balance can create a false equivalency that takes away from fairness.
  • Bias is a pattern of unfairness found in the coverage by a single news organization. 
  • Sometimes the perception of bias is rooted not in journalistic bias but in audience bias.

Lesson 9: Truth and Verification

  • Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth. 
  • Journalistic truth is provisional — it may change as evidence and events unfold. 
  • The lesson for news consumers: Follow a story over time. 
  • Journalists pursue the truth by following a hierarchy of direct evidence that places the greatest value on photographs and videos, documents and records, personal observations, and witnesses.
  • The verification process can break down when journalists rush to get a story first or a report is based on false or insufficient evidence.
  • Consumers should ask themselves whether journalists “opened the freezer” — if the report's conclusions were verified with  direct evidence. 

Lesson 10: Evaluating Sources

  • One of the best methods for determining the reliability of a news report is evaluating whether you can believe the sources of the information in that report.
  • News Literacy teaches students to evaluate news sources with a five-step test known by the mnemonic IMVA/IN. It's based on the idea that the most reliable sources are Independent, Multiple, Verified, Authoritative/Informed and Named. 

Lesson 11: Deconstructing the News

  • Students learn to deconstruct stories, using News Literacy concepts to analyze and dispassionately judge their reliability.
  • Deconstruction involves source evaluation and examining if the evidence the story is based on is direct or indirect. Students also learn to examine whether journalists have put the information in context and have been transparent about how the facts were gathered and what remains unknown.

Lesson 12: Deconstructing TV News

  • Students learn to apply the deconstruction techniques they learned in Lesson 11 to what is arguably the most prevalent and powerful news medium — television.
  • A key lesson: TV news exists in an entertainment medium with techniques that may have an impact on the fairness of a report.
  • The TV news consumer must guard against the tendency to be a passive, uncritical viewer.
  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of TV as a news medium and the need to supplement TV reports with web, radio and print sources.

Lesson 13: Deconstructing Social Media

  • Students learn to recognize the power of social media and gauge the reliability of social media posts and websites.
  • A key lesson: Ranking on search engines does not necessarily indicate the reliability of a website or piece of information found online. 

Lesson 14: News Literate You — and the Future of News 

  • In the Digital Age, we are all publishers as well as news consumers.
  • The advent of crowdsourcing and "citizen journalists" has created new opportunities and challenges for both news outlets and news consumers.
  • The Internet's disruption of traditional journalism business models has raised a key question: Who will pay for watchdog journalism in the Digital Age?