News Tutor: Training Discerning News Consumers

For a decade, I worked as a newspaper reporter. I loved almost everything about it: researching a variety of topics, being out in the community, writing on a daily basis. I also defended U.S. journalists as a group when I heard the seemingly overused complaint about the "biased media" and the implication that journalists were somehow deliberately manipulating the news. That willingness to defend my peers changed a bit when I began seeing it myself in news reports: decisions being made by journalists that altered how the facts came across to readers or viewers. Over time, I believed I saw more and more examples of poor ethics, leaving me less sure that these flaws were innocent mistakes.

Some news consumers notice these sometimes-subtle editing choices that can make a report unfair or misleading, but most don't catch on so easily. I grew to realize that we needed a tool so that all news consumers, particularly our young people, could be better able to recognize when a journalist had made an error in how they conveyed information.

I began with a simple concept: why not create three versions of the same news story so others might understand through this side-by-side example what can happen with the same facts? I used the same interviews and much of the same footage and created a centered report and two deliberately skewed versions of one news report. I called it a skew set.  Teachers loved it. They felt it was a simple but effective tool for teaching students to be more discerning news consumers. But there was one problem: they were unlikely to pay for it due to the wide availability of free instructional videos online.

Once I understood that, I decided I needed a tool that I could use to raise money to support my plans to build more such tools. I saved my money from my other independent journalism work, pulled together a team and created the News Tutor iOS app

The app, for iPads and iPhones, puts the student in the shoes of a journalist, making the decisions related to accuracy and fairness. It is a simple way to engage young people and train them think differently - more critically - as they watch the news. If the intial response in an indication, this will be a very important tool for educators and for the public going forward.

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