When did Bites launch and why?
Bites launched in 2018. Prior to launching the company, we observed several conditions existing among the youth as being responsible for the historically low rates of engagement with trusted news and civic responsibilities. First, teens current information consumption is fragmented, consisting of sound bites from parents’ opinions, mixed with a lack of depth provided through social media. We also identified media consumption habits have changed; teens are no longer mimicking their parents habits of reading periodical sources on a daily or even weekly basis. To make matters worse, the internet continues to perpetuate an information overload where students are either duped or disengaged. All of these conditions are contributing to a lack of understanding in current events, and consequently, a lack of engagement in civic responsibilities.
Emily and I saw an opportunity to tackle these issues by combining our collective experience between the news and education. We developed Bites to help bridge the divide between media literacy and civic engagement. Emily is a former public school teacher with an M.Ed. in special education. She was also a former educational publishing consultant, and coached middle to high school teachers on reading intervention. Nick’s family owned and operated newspapers for over a century; he has a strong inherent drive to protect the integrity of journalism. Prior to Bites, he had a career in publishing and finance.
What does Bites do? What are its main goals? Main projects?
Bites is a news platform bridging the gap between the necessity of understanding an issue with the next step of civic action. Our vision is that, in a time of turbulent identity politics, we develop a new generation that holds importance in understanding differing perspectives and the facts that support them. We believe this new generation will become empowered citizens, able to lead the way through productive discourse and knowledgeable action.
We are launching several school pilot programs for the fall of 2019/20 school year. These pilots tie into core social science curriculum as well as supplemental media literacy and civic curriculum. We are also developing a program around student journalism and school newspapers. We want to provide the next generation of journalists with the training and tools to make an impact in their local community.
What makesBites stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about Bites?
We focus on conveying not only the facts but the scope of an issue through different perspectives, sources, and mediums. Students then have a stronger foundation of knowledge before engaging with additional sources or with others in conversation and action. Instead of using fragmented information, students utilize Bites to quickly and easily gain understanding of the holistic nature of an issue. Without Bites, discourse and action will continue to polarize with many people using opinion instead of fact to demand what they think is right. We have to evolve beyond skimming headlines or tuning out all together. We believe Bites strikes the appropriate balance between brevity and depth, giving students what they need to know to get engaged in their community.
What are recent projects or new resources that Bites would like to share with other NAMLE members?
We have our main site bitesmedia.com that publishes articles for students and educators. For teachers, we have a robust classroom management software that includes article assessments, grading tools, and student engagement data. Not only can teachers better understand student comprehension, but they also can gain a quantitative understanding of how their student is learning through multi-media.
Additionally, we launched a school newspaper initiative within our ecosystem. We are working with a handful of schools on developing a student newspaper program that uses Bites’ unique article format and website structure. The program includes “new media” journalism briefs including Bites writer training, unlimited access to upload Bites articles to the school site, and Bites platform training and support.
What are the connections between your work and media literacy?
Our product can be implemented in several ways that support media literacy, but is dependent on an educators curricular goal. Bites primarily falls under the development of critical thinking skills, from activation (knowledge of) to implementation (school newspapers) to community impact (civic action).
We also believe our platform inherently teaches media literacy by providing trustworthy sources in a full scope “two sides to every story” format. Our hope is that after being exposed to Bites’ articles over time, students will inherently expect to find in a traditional sources all the critical aspects found in the Bites format – “what it is”, “why it matters”, two perspectives, and ways to take action. If not present in the source, students will utilize their primary media literacy skills to question the material and research supplemental material missing from that source. By becoming a stepping stone in information consumption, we are hoping to redefine how students approach the news.
Why is media literacy important to you?
It is the responsibility of the press to educate the public on current social and civic issues – to help develop “informed citizens.” In doing so, the press needs to maintain high standards of ethics and accountability. These standards have been undermined both through neglect of certain media organizations and efforts of some to label information they disagree with as “fake news”. Media literacy is important to us because it empowers the public to hold others accountable for the information they publish, and reward those that still seek to provide fidelity in truthfulness of what they report.
Anything else you want our readers to know about Bites, your mission, your staff?
We are launching a student newspaper initiative this Fall. Schools will be able to duplicate and easily customize the Bites platform to fit their school’s publication needs. In addition, schools will be provided a framework for setting up a “new-age media organization.” We have seen incredible engagement with the Bites’ article format and want to provide students with the training and technology to engage their peers with local journalism.