Spotlight on Organizational Partner: Newseum

This month Rachell Arteaga interviewed Barbara McCormack, Vice President of Education for Newseum.

When did your organization launch and why?

In 1997, the Newseum opened in Rosslyn, Va., with education a part of its mission. Over the years, which included a move to our new site on Pennsylvania Avenue, the museum’s education department has supplemented its on-site offerings with a strong digital component to make the Newseum’s content and collections available to all. In fall 2015, we debuted our new website and rebranded ourselves NewseumED. NewseumED.org gives students, teachers and lifelong learners who can’t visit Washington free access to the Newseum’s vast collections. The site’s content is copyright-cleared for use in the classroom, giving teachers worry-free access to quality, non-partisan resources for teaching media literacy, history, and the First Amendment.  Since the website’s launch in October 2015, nearly 500,000 unique visitors – from all 50 states and 175 countries – have explored our resources and interactives.

What does your organization do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

NewseumED is committed to providing educational tools to cultivate the skills needed to be well-informed and empowered participants in crucial conversations about our nation’s past, present and future. Our content is framed by the freedoms and ideals protected by the First Amendment, which acts as a springboard to explore more about the opportunities and challenges of our democracy. We do that through:

  • Free on-site, educator-led classes for students in third grade through university that focus on history, civics, media literacy and the First Amendment 
  • Professional development workshops for teachers on-site, off-site and at conferences that offer tools and strategies for the classroom
  • Free virtual classes for students
  • Webinars
  • Team-building activities for professional groups
  • Annual programs, such as Teacher Open House and Summer Teacher Institute
  • A  free website with 1,100-plus primary sources, lesson plans, videos and artifacts and four EDCollections – curated suites of resources – that offer in-depth looks at the civil rights and women’s suffrage movements, elections, and civil liberties.

What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?

NewseumED stands out with its top-notch, online tools and resources  all free with registration   to cultivate the skills to authenticate, analyze and evaluate information from a variety of sources and to provide historical context to current events. Educators appreciate the rich content and classroom-ready resources. Says Michele Galla, a teacher in Alaska; “The depth of questions to spark curiosity, discussion and research are very beneficial. … Your focus on primary source documents is right in line with Common Core and research — love it!” 

What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?

In December 2017, NewseumED launched a new set of online resources to address critical educational needs in media literacy. Done in partnership with the American Association of University Women, the Media Literacy Booster Pack, which is available for free on newseumED.org, helps students navigate today’s complex media landscape. The resources, which include infographics, videos, historical sources and activities, offer students and teachers the tools to understand how news is made and how they can take a more active role in the information cycle.

The eight overarching topics of the Booster Pack are evaluating information, filtering out fake news, separating facts and opinions, recognizing bias, detecting propaganda, uncovering how news is made, spotting errors in the news and taking charge of your role as a media consumer and contributor. 

The Booster Pack supplements a suite of free standards-aligned resources for students and teachers that are already available on newseumED.org. The existing resources include two poster-sized infographics: E.S.C.A.P. E. Junk News and Is This Story Share-Worthy? The infographics, developed in partnership with Facebook, examine how to analyze content and leverage social media platforms for sharing ideas and information.

During the past year, NewseumED also increased the number of classes available virtually to school groups throughout the United States and world. The most-popular class has been “Fighting Fake News: How to Outsmart Trolls and Troublemakers.”

What are the connections between the work of your organization and media literacy? Why is media literacy important to you?

At NewseumED, because of our First Amendment mission, we’ve always approached media literacy differently. We marry the analytical aspects – such as separating fact from fiction and identifying bias – with active free expression and productive social engagement. For example, consider the need to confront and counter confirmation bias. Whereas traditional media literacy might focus on how to find diverse information sources and triangulate between competing claims, we broaden the approach to also look at how confirmation bias can affect the way we express ideas and engage with pressing issues as individuals and as a society. We call this marriage of free expression and analytical skill First Amendment media literacy.

Understanding the First Amendment as a foundation for media literacy is all the more important in today’s media landscape, where the divisions between information producers, aggregators and consumers have all but melted away. In the past, the press was a distinct entity that could be held accountable for any failures to live up to its potential. Now, we are all gatekeepers, charged with deciding what we should or should not share. With no formal training, we are all expected to make daily judgments about the value of different perspectives and the purpose of various social media and self-publishing platforms. In the face of these snowballing responsibilities, we need not only technical and analytical abilities, but also a deeper understanding of how the five freedoms of the First Amendment shape the ways we create, consume, communicate and control information. Debates over free speech, religious expression and the role of the press leach into our daily lives, and the media are both the forum for and feeding into these debates. We want individuals to make active connections between the use and interpretation of our fundamental freedoms and the challenges of daily life and engaged citizenship.

The press itself is at the heart of many of these challenges. First Amendment media literacy requires exploring freedom of the press as both a vital part of a democracy, but also the root of the need for media savvy and critical thinking. We prompt students to wrestle with what it means that the First Amendment protects not only good journalism, but also flawed or half-hearted attempts at news. By digging into the decision-making processes of journalists and deconstructing their own interactions with news and information, we build an understanding of why freedom of the press must be protected, even though it will always fall short of the ideal, and why regulations or algorithms are unlikely remedies for biased, incomplete or even false information.

Anything else about want our readers to know about your org, your mission, your staff?

We are passionate about providing students with the skills to be knowledgeable news consumers and producers, objectives that are essential to developing civic responsibility and engagement. Meet our team.

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