Monday, October 19, 2009

Marquette Students Tour the "Information Neighborhood"

Tomorrow afternoon, Trib columnist Clarence Page will visit Marquette Elementary to talk with middle schoolers about the news business and why news is important. About 150 6th-graders have been gearing up for the visit by studying a curriculum developed by the News Literacy Project. Last week Chicago coordinator Peter Adams told me about one of their activities--exploring the "information neighborhoods" in a newspaper--page one, metro, sports, advertising inserts. "We go through and talk about who produced this, what its goal is, things like that," to better understand the relationship between advertisers, reporters and the paper as a whole.

Last Friday students examined digital and viral media hoaxes to learn more about what a reliable source is. I know firsthand the worth of activities like this. Back in 2006, my neighbor Daniel, then 12 years old, stopped me on the street and said, "Mark Ecko tagged Air Force One."

"What?" I responded, shocked.

"Yeah, he tagged it. It's on You Tube," Daniel told me. So we went in my house and watched the video. (You can see it here.) It was so well done it had me going for a minute. Then we looked for reliable news stories about his feat and quickly discovered it was a very clever fake--he rented a Boeing jet and painted it to look like Air Force One. According to Ecko's own website, the fake was so good it had the military double-checking whether anyone had been on the runway to shoot it.

If people like me, who've worked in news, and even the Pentagon are doing double-takes at a video hoax, how is a 12-year-old supposed to know it's not true? That's what the News Literacy Project hopes to teach--the skills to separate the fact from the fiction, opinion and advertising that dominate the media landscape, especially in new media. It's great work, and more Chicago schools are looking to get on board in 2010. For more about the News LIteracy Project and tomorrow's event, check out this article on the LISC/Chicago website.

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