Thought Leadership

June 4, 2018

You (Yes, You) Need to Be More News Literate

Kathleen Reynolds

The internet is “both the world’s best fact-checker and the world’s best bias confirmer – often at the same time,” said Michael Lynch, a philosopher who studies technological changes influencing society.


I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I’m proud that today, CooperKatz and many PR agency members of the PR Council are standing with the News Literacy Project as part of a “Day of Action” to educate around and advocate for news literacy.


This probably sounds like a nice PR tagline, but what does “news literacy” mean? And why am I so passionate about this topic?


Stanford History Education Group research showed high school and college students are largely unable to process information flooding their phones and screens. For instance, many had problems determining if a tweet was trustworthy; recognizing a sponsored post; distinguishing between an opinion and a news article; or even understanding whether something was an advertisement or not on a news homepage. Others had trouble identifying whether they were looking at a real or falsified account on Facebook, verifying a controversial claim or assessing the veracity of a video online.


It’s alarming to think about “digital natives” being ill-equipped to analyze information. But news literacy isn’t just needed for students. Raise your hand if you’ve ever:


  • Taken a writer’s sourcing for granted and without clicking hyperlinks or citations to verify.
  • Shared a social post without reading the primary source or full article, beyond the headline or pull-out quote.
  • Been completely sure that the “out there” contact of yours on Facebook is sharing false information – even though you haven’t thoroughly researched his or her claims.
  • Gotten fired up because of something you’ve read (good or bad) without thinking about who was behind it, and the possible motives of that person or organization?


It’s easy to do any of the above without asking yourself, what is this designed to do: inform, persuade, incite, or even misinform? We have to stop and think this through because NONE of us are perfect when it comes to news literacy. It doesn’t matter whether you are an official receiving a classified intelligence briefing, a reporter gathering information from sources or like me, someone receiving nonstop notifications throughout the day at breakneck speed.


I know as a PR person, I am often explicitly trying to inform AND persuade on behalf of my clients. I certainly do so in an ethical and transparent way. And at CooperKatz, we push our people and our clients to fact-check every claim or argument a client is making, to ensure the validity of what we share.


Regardless of your line of work, I know you understand the rampant issue of so-called “fake news” (and here are seven great tips to stop it). But it’s a cop-out to think that someone else needs news literacy more than you do, whether it’s students, that rancorous relative who drives you crazy at Thanksgiving, your old high school frenemy whose every post makes you livid, etc.


We all deal with information overflow. We all have bias (our own and others’). So let’s all be more thoughtful, more critical and more careful as we consume and share information.


P.S. Speaking of which, did you stop to check my sources? They had nothing to do with the information I was citing! I linked to some of my favorite restaurants in New York and D.C. (seriously, who’s going to score me a reservation at A Rake’s Progress)?! OK; I’m just some having fun. But let this serve another reminder to check your sources (don’t worry; you can trust me as a credible source for fine dining).


Here are links to the REAL sources of information I referenced:



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