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The Nature of News

The relationship between individuals and the news is changing. It has become difficult to decipher fact from fiction, news from commentary and accuracy from inaccuracy. How do we challenge people to become discerning consumers of the news?


Why News Literacy is Important

Carol Marin, one of the most respected journalists in Chicago, provides her perspective on the future of quality journalism and the role of citizens as well as the price we all pay if individual citizens aren’t actively engaged.


News Literacy in Action

Every day we are bombarded with unsolicited news and information.  If we’re not proactively selecting the news and information we consume, who’s deciding what we know?




News literacy is the ability to use critical thinking skills to judge the reliability and credibility of news reports and information sources

Learn more about News Literacy, one of the issues being addressed by our Journalism Program, on the McCormick Foundation website. 


We all know that the nature of news is changing and that the way we receive and respond to information will never be the same again. The real question is, what kind of impact will these seismic shifts have on our role as citizens and on the strength of our democracy? That depends on our ability to become more discerning consumers of news.


David Hiller signature
David D. Hiller
President & CEO
David Hiller, President & CEO

Challenge Fund for Journalism

The Challenge Fund for Journalism, a partnership through the Ford, Knight, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism, and McCormick foundations, provided funding to 53 nonprofit media companies. These grants, which the organizations were required to “match,” helped journalism groups learn to adapt to the plunging economy, strengthen their organizations and raise money. Collectively, the organizations leveraged $3.6 million in grants into almost $9.5 million in matches. Read more about the Challenge Fund for Journalism here.

Thresholds Panel

Why News Matters

With the overwhelming flood of information, it’s harder than ever for consumers to distinguish news from noise. McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program is launching Why News Matters, a grantmaking program designed to enhance news literacy skills and programs in Chicago. We will invest as much as $6 million in the next three years in the Why News Matters initiative. Watch a short video to learn more about what news literacy is, and why it's important for our democracy.

Local Organizations Join Forces to Combat Youth Violence

As of June 17, Chicago has witnessed 38% more homicides and 12% more shootings in 2012 than in 2011. The Community Media Workshop and Strengthening Chicago's Youth have joined forces to connect Chicago journalists with organizations working to combat youth violence. The goal is to help the media accurately tell the story of youth violence in Chicago.
Learn more about the initiative.

Comprehensive guide for covering youth violence. 

The Changing Nature of News        

  • With the overwhelming flood of information, it’s harder than ever for consumers to distinguish news from noise. A 2010 Pew Research Center survey found that 70 percent of respondents feel overwhelmed by the amount of news and information from different sources, and 72 percent think most sources of news are biased.
  • The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has been tracking views of press performance since 1985, and the overall ratings remain quite negative. Fully 66 percent say news stories often are inaccurate, 77 percent think that news organizations tend to favor one side, and 80 percent say news organizations are often influenced by powerful people and organizations.
  • Seventeen percent of all Americans say that they get no news every day. (On the other end of the spectrum, that’s also the percentage of Americans who read a newspaper every day.) The statistic’s even starker for certain age groups: 31 percent of people ages 18-24 get no news on an average day, and 22 percent of 30-34-year-olds get none. (Source)

Clearly, the relationship between individuals and the news is changing—and not for the better. The good news is, there is a great deal of information now available to virtually everyone. The bad news? It has become difficult to decipher fact from fiction, news from commentary, accuracy from inaccuracy. How do we challenge people to become discerning consumers of the news—able and willing to search out information that represents more than one side of an issue...and that can be trusted?

WATCH a panel discussion  with a group of UIC students sharing their thoughts and opinions on news.  

How News works

For more information: 

Back to the Coffee House (The Economist): The internet is making news more participatory and diverse, as it historically was before mass media.

Digital Media's Ever-Swifter Incursion (New York Times): Huffington Post releases an iPad magazine.

The Trouble with Twitter (The Chronicle Review): Journalism professor discusses hesitancy about using the social media platform for news.  


Watch an interview with Carol Marin, print and television journalist.

Thomas Jefferson said: "Knowledge of current issues is essential to an informed citizenry in a Democracy."

Abraham Lincoln said: "Give the people the facts, and the country will be safe."

But what would we say today? Certainly that it’s all harder and more confusing than it sounds. With the current barrage of information from a huge variety of media sources—and the difficulty in sorting fact from fiction and news from commentary—most of us would throw up our hands and say, "How can we know?"

Carol Marin, one of the most respected journalists in Chicago, provides her perspective in the attached interview, not only on the future of quality journalism, but also on the role of citizens in seeking out the facts and the price we all pay if individual citizens aren’t actively engaged and discerning consumers of news. Carol was interviewed at the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom by Clark Bell, director of the McCormick Foundation's Journalism Program. 

With the 2012 election season now here, it’s more important than ever that all citizens be able to judge the reliability and credibility of news and information. The decisions we make today will have a significant impact on our future.

For more information:

Fault Lines in our Democracy: CIRCLE reports on how an uninformed and unengaged citizenry, especially among youth, threatens the future of our democracy.

Beware Online Filter Bubbles: TED video featuring online organizer, Eli Pariser, talks about how personalized search might be narrowing our worldview.

Out of Order: Author Thomas Patterson illustrates how media has become overly fixated on "the game" as presidential campaign journalism continues to degenerate.

Read how Pulitzer-Prize winning Chicago photographer, John White, teaches news literacy skills at Columbia College.

Every day we are bombarded with unsolicited news and information: riding in cabs, standing in line at the grocery store, browsing our personal social media pages. We often aren’t aware of what’s coming our way, nor can we consciously choose what we’re seeing or hearing. To help young people negotiate the media overload, universities across the country are arming students with the skills that they need to be active, discerning consumers of news and information.

Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy in New York is at the cutting edge of news literacy education and research.  Led by Howard Schneider, dean of the School of Journalism, Stony Brook developed the nation’s first college News Literacy course, which seeks to educate undergraduates across all disciplines on how to be better news consumers. The university believes that developing these skills is not only essential for becoming intelligent news consumers, but also for being effective citizens. Since its inception in 2007, the Stony Brook approach has been adopted by 32 universities across the nation.

One of the first assignments given to students in the University’s introductory news literacy course is called the “48-hour news block out.” This assignment challenges students to avoid all forms of news over two days, if they can. This also includes non-traditional news such as social media, ESPN, Google and conversations about news, including celebrity gossip.

“You can tell which students honestly did the assignment because those students report that it’s nearly impossible to avoid the news,” said Dean Miller, director of the Center for News Literacy. “The real ‘aha’ moment of the course is those individuals who initially thought being an active consumer of news wasn’t important, begin to realize that by being passive consumers of news is essentially allowing someone to control what they know. And no one likes to be controlled.”

There is also important work being done at the middle-and high-school level. Check out a couple organizations that are leading the way in news literacy education in Chicago and across the country. News Literacy Project
Free Spirit Media
Common Sense Media

For more information:

17% of Americans get no news daily (Poynter Institute): Pew researcher shows when and where people get news.

New Digital Divide seen in wasting time online (New York Times): How technology access has resulted in poorer children spending more time using gadgets than well-off children.

News Literacy for bilingual communities served by Latino-oriented media (Center for News Literacy): Coalition plans to transform existing news literacy program into more culturally appropriate revision.

Three Little Pigs

WATCH the Three Little Pigs, a humorous take by The Guardian on a classic fairytale that demonstrates how today's rapid news cycle can move from facts to commentary to personal opinion and ultimately to public policy virtually overnight. This is the challenge of both the news industry and individual citizens, who must be able to sort truth from fiction and personal opinion from fact.

Comics Journalism: Degrees of Literacy

Comics journalism is a cutting edge approach to reporting, using actual interviews and news stories with accompanying graphics to provide relevant news and information in a visual, compelling format. The story, created by Darryl Holiday, an intern in the McCormick Foundation's Journalism Program, features a current issue—student debt and unemployment—to illustrate what happens when both journalists and citizens fail to “see” a developing emergency and an emerging problem becomes a full-blown crisis.

Click on the image at right to read the entire comic.

To learn more about comics journalism and the creators of this piece, check out this article by the Columbia Journalism Review.

Degrees of Literacy, Comics Journalism
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