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Do you want the good news or the bad news? By John Dabell


What makes the news?

When the news makes the news then that really is news!

Put simply, the news has never more been ‘in the news’.

Over the last couple of years there has been definite media literacy movement to raise the profile of ‘news nous’ and combat misinformation with many schools putting ‘news’ on the curriculum.

In a time in which almost anyone can publish information, many are calling for news literacy to become an established part of the curriculum so that children can be critical commentators and canny consumers.

As pointed out in the National Literacy Trust research report Fake news and critical literacy,

“several experts recommend that critical digital literacy should be taught in schools as part of citizenship lessons and throughout the curriculum (e.g. Hinrichsen and Coombs, 2013; Holmes-Henderson, 2014; Schleicher, 2017).”

According to University of Salford research, education must be adapted to help children recognise fake news. Researchers surveyed 300 children from years five, seven and nine at schools in Manchester, Liverpool, Scotland and Wales and found although the majority of children said they knew what fake news was in practice they were far less savvy at spotting it, particularly the more ‘subtler’ forms. 

Providing children with the know-how to find and filter information is essential in nurturing a clued-up and clued-up society but high-quality training support to teach news literacy is lacking. However, big efforts are underway.

The BBC is launching a new programme starting in March targeted at secondary schools and sixth forms supporting young people to identify real news and filter out fake or false information. Schools will have access to free online materials classroom activities, video tutorials, and an interactive game where the player experiences being a BBC journalist in the heart of the newsroom. Around 1,000 schools will be offered mentoring – in class, online, or at events – from top BBC journalists such as Huw Edwards and Tina Daheley.

Another initiative is being developed jointly by the Guardian Foundation, the National Literacy Trust and the PHSE Association. Starting in the autumn term, the News Wise pilot programme will provide primary teachers with a bank of online resources, lesson plans and journalist-led workshops to help children how to access, navigate, analyse and participate in the news. Primary schools can register their interest here.

Getting Wise

Clearly there is a need to teach children how to spot misinformation, distinguish fact from fiction and identify persuasion in communication. Many are naïve and unsophisticated recipients of news information and can be easily hoodwinked and bamboozled.

A Stanford University study of nearly 8,000 students found that when it comes to evaluating information on social media then so-called digital natives are ‘easily duped’ saying that, “Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.”

I’m not so sure. Are we doing our children and ourselves a disservice?

Have we underestimated the progress we have already made in highlighting fake news and other news literacy issues?

Children aren’t mindlessly lapping up everything that comes their way and are questioning the content they see.

Some children are probably far more news literate than many adults and according to research by Ofcom, ‘tweens’ are ‘getting wise’ to fake news and aren’t fooled by what’s hitting the headlines.

Image: Ofcom


Ofcom’s Children and Parents Media Use and Attitudes Report 2017 is a fascinating insight into the  media use, attitudes and understanding of children aged 5-15, including information about the media access and use of children aged 3-4.

The report tells us that secondary aged children are more likely to be guarded about the reliability of news updates they see on social media and 86% of those surveyed say they would make at least one practical attempt to check whether a social media news story is true or false.

They regard news on the TV, the radio and news from family and friends to be reported more truthfully than social media.

Older children prove themselves to be conscious and responsible consumers. If they encountered fake news then 35% saying they would tell their parents or other family member, 21% would tell a friend, 18% would leave a comment saying they thought the news story was fake and 14% would report the content to the social media website directly.

There are still many children who struggle to separate fact from fiction and 8% say they wouldn’t make any checks but reassuringly Ofcom found that almost all children do report that they have strategies for checking whether a story is true or false.

The reasons for this could be a lower trust threshold born out of recent efforts to help children be more news savvy around competing narratives. The Government is determined to play a bigger role and recently announced plans to establish a new unit to counter ‘fake news’ and  combat ‘disinformation by state actors and others’. However, England has opted out of out of an international standardised test designed to assess how well children can spot fake news saying that it would be an additional burden for schools.

Children Aren’t Interested

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

The good news is there is no bad news when it comes to children’s interest in a range of topics.

Encouragingly, Ofcom found many children are interested in the news despite the myth that children ‘just aren’t interested in the news’ – they are.

50% of 12-15 year olds say they are interested in ‘reading, watching, listening to or following news’, with nearly one in ten very interested.

When asked to select from a list of 11 types of news, interest among 12-15 year olds rises to almost 96%. The top news interests for 12-15s are:

  • music news
  • news about celebrities
  • sports
  • serious things going on in the UK
  • animals/ the environment
  • science and technology
  • local news
  • fashion and beauty
  • serious things going on in other countries
  • news about weather
  • politics/ current affairs

Children’s interest in a range of news is a healthy one.

So often children can be overlooked and their views can be marginalised but now they are right at the epicentre of the news, they are shaping the news and they are being equipped to be sophisticated real news spotters.

The great news is that children’s news literacy is on the front page and hitting the headlines. Children are ‘big news’ and that’s the way it should be.

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