Seeking Truth in the News

Middle School students have more information available to them than any generation prior. Thanks to the Internet, ubiquitous Wi-Fi and personal connected devices of all shapes and sizes, students have an abundance of resources for news and information at the tips of their fingers at all times. In some ways, this is amazing. In others, daunting. How can students find truth in an increasingly cluttered and confusing media landscape? These realities recently provided the basis for Intermediate and Middle School Head John Novick to arrange for a special Morning Ex geared at helping 5th through 8th grade students seek truth in the news.

To help educate students on this special topic, Novick invited CBS News Investigator Maureen Maher to the school to share her experience and expertise on the topic. A 5th grade student introduced their special guest, speaking to her career path and trajectory, as well as her accomplishments as an investigative reporter—most recently as a correspondent on the CBS show 48 Hours.

Maher opened her presentation by asking her audience to define news. In doing this, she was clear in pointing out that “news” should not be equated with “media.” To help illustrate this distinction, she used the term “transportation” and presented photos of a plane in the air, a train on the tracks, a car on the road, cyclists on their bikes and a runner on a trail to demonstrate how they all fell into the category of transportation, but were each very different from one another. She then displayed photos of a newspaper, a website, a TV news program, an Instagram logo and more to show how one can apply the term “media” to a wide range of experiences.

Maher encouraged her students to “know what they were looking for, so that they know what they are looking at.” Some types of media are better than others at conveying information. For example, Maher likened a cursory read of only headlines to plane transportation—it gets you where you are going fast, but you aren’t close enough to see the details. She compared daily news to traveling by car—it takes longer to get there, but you get more information driving by something than flying over it. In-depth reporting and walking are comparable—each takes the most time but one sees a lot more and takes in more information.

Maher also spoke to the importance of having reliable sources within various media and offered students some guidelines to keep in mind as they evaluated information:
  • Does this media outlet have a history of fact checking?
  • Does this media outlet have a history publicly correcting errors?
  • Does this media outlet use more than one source on the story?
  • Does this media outlet compensate sources or people they interview?
To aid these students in their ongoing search for truth in the news, Maher offered the following advice:
  • Never use only one source of information.
  • Never use only one source of media.
  • Do listen, read, watch and follow on social media a variety of news sources with different opinions.
  • Do ask where other smart and interesting people get their news.
  • Do fact check the news outlets you rely on.
Before fielding student questions, Maher closed the Morning Ex by asking students the following question: Do you want to person with a smartphone or a smart person with a phone? Based on all the valuable information Maher shared, these students will surely be the latter!

Click here for photos from this presentation.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.