K-12 Education

What They're Thinking: Iowa High School Press Association President Jonathan Rogers

How are teachers approaching a lack of news literacy among students?

City High students Lucy McGehee (foreground) and Nova Meurice work on the December issue of The Little Hawk, the high school’s student newspaper, with adviser Jonathan Rogers (standing) on Friday in Iowa City. (Addie Bass/The Little Hawk)
City High students Lucy McGehee (foreground) and Nova Meurice work on the December issue of The Little Hawk, the high school’s student newspaper, with adviser Jonathan Rogers (standing) on Friday in Iowa City. (Addie Bass/The Little Hawk)

IOWA CITY — Though they’re often dubbed “digital natives,” young people often are duped by fake and misleading news online, a recent study has found.

Researchers at Stanford University in California found students in middle school, high school and college overall cannot distinguish a news story from a paid advertisement, a neutral source from a biased one or a fake social media account from a real one. The findings were reported last month by NPR.

Is a lack of media literacy plaguing Iowa students? As a high school teacher, student newspaper adviser and president of the Iowa High School Press Association, Jonathan Rogers regularly observes teenagers’ news judgment skills.

Q: In Iowa, are you seeing the same kinds of deficiencies in students that were identified by this national study?

A: “As I’ve talked to students, all of them have cellphones and digital technology. I say a lot of students don’t know how to use technology to get news and information, they don’t know how to make a Twitter list or find different sources of media. I think that study’s probably pretty accurate — that most students don’t know how to get to information online. ... People really are getting the news on their phones now, and we need to adapt our teaching and whatnot to include more education about social media.”

Q: How do you teach news literacy to your students? What are some main points?

A: “It’s teaching critical thinking. The way I do it is just teaching students the difference between fake and credible sources and where they can get their news. ... I think it’s really important to know these sources of information are out there, to become more critical consumers of news and to think about how they get their news.”

Q: Do students outside of high school journalism courses learn about news literacy?

A: “It’s in the Iowa Common Core for different Language Arts classes. ... I think it’s definitely been a discussion among journalism teachers and Language Arts teachers nationally ... how important it is to teach digital literacy. There’s starting to be more of an emphasis on it, and we’re seeing it’s really important to teach students how to navigate this digital world we’re all getting our news and information from.”

Q: Why do you think this is something teachers should take on?

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A: “I think it’s really important, and we should have been doing more about social media and things like that a long time ago. (Among teachers,) there’s some discussion about, “we don’t need to delve into apps or social media,” and I totally disagree with that. ... Obviously it’s really important, and it’s also not as easy as you’d think to figure what’s a ‘good source’ and what’s a ‘bad source.’ “

Q: What do you think are the long-term consequences of learning — or not learning — these skills in high school, especially as students start voting?

A: “We need to be really careful — this is not about teaching students to believe a certain thing, but we need to teach them about this technology. There are people who aren’t trusting of mainstream media and have a great mistrust for facts. As a journalism teacher, it’s tough. I think those are tough questions, and I think the important thing right now is pushing that discussion and having students talk about why they believe things and where they get that information.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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