If we bring together people and organisations from different fields of information, can we find new ways to help readers identify what is true and false, and better understand how the media works?
The Arizona State University’s (ASU) Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication has launched a collaborative lab that will research and develop innovative approaches to news literacy, including identifying mis- and disinformation and providing more transparency in how news is produced.
It derived from a working group hosted in Phoenix last March by the Facebook Journalism Project and the Walter Cronkite School, where a group of people from various disciplines got together to answer the question of 'how can we make media/news literacy a core part of everyday life?'
"In the wake of that, I and a colleague at the Cronkite School started working on putting together an initiative focused on tailored experiments that would, we hope, increase demand for quality news and lead to a better information ecosystem in communities of all kinds," said Dan Gillmor, director and co-founder of the News Co/Lab.
The initiative will kick off with a survey of best practices in transparency and newsroom community engagement around the world, the results of which will be publicly available.
A small staff will also be hired, Gillmor said, including a researcher who will help establish some news literacy metrics to measure the project's impact as it progresses.
"I believe strongly that one of the best things news organisations can do is to be much more transparent about what, why and how they do things," he added, "and to engage more with their community beyond the traditional model of 'here's the news, buy it or don't buy it', which I hope is going to evolve."
The first set of experiments is scheduled to start early in 2018, taking place in four newsrooms: at Cronkite News, the student-powered news arm of Arizona PBS which is based at the Cronkite School, and at three local news titles owned by publishing company McClatchy, including the Kansas City Star and two others that are yet to be announced.
In each of these communities, the News Co/Lab will strive to work with a variety of people other than journalists, such as technologists, educators, libraries and other service organisations.
"It's very much going to be a partnership – we will not walk in there and say 'do it our way'. We will meet with [the newsrooms] and with people in the community and see what kinds of things we can try to boost the overall local ecosystem for news."
In the next few months, the project will focus of identifying strong examples of news literacy practices both in the US and abroad, as well as visiting more potential partners. Gillmor said the goal is not to "reinvent what other people are already doing", but to "help them do more of it" and build on those learnings across disciplines.
"I think it's a great time to be experimenting and to work with all of these participants in this information ecosystem so they can help each other.
"None of us working in the area are going to be able to solve anything by ourselves, but I think if we do things right and make it collectively, we can make a difference together and that's what I'm hoping will happen."