It is getting harder to separate fact from fiction.
In today’s world, we are often left feeling after watching the news, reading an article, or scrolling on our social media. The truth has become a mechanism to share misinformation to create confusion amount of everyday people.
This is where the News Literacy Project steps into as an organization that started in 2008. They are a nonpartisan national education nonprofit that provides programs and resources for educators and the public to teach, learn and share the abilities needed to be smart, active consumers of news and information and equal and engaged participants in a democracy.
This is a conversation that breaths life and hope that the future is getting brighter and that change will come.
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Hi and welcome to CausePods I’m your host, Matthew Passi here because Bonds, we have one simple mission to highlight the amazing folks who are using podcast as a way to raise awareness for good causes and make the world a better place, whether it’s in their own local community or they’re taking on global issues.
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So excited to have this conversation that we are having today. It is timely. We’re talking to our guests shortly after the news of the presidential election was announced. We are talking at a time when misinformation in the news is rampant and problematic and just something that is so prolific and problematic for society. And frankly, I love it because it’s a departure from so many of the other causes that we talk about. And really, I think the impact of what they are trying to do is incredible.
We are chatting tonight with Dara Walland. She’s the vice president for creative services with the News Literacy Project, a non-partisan national education nonprofit that is trying to help educators and the public learn to better consume and understand news and information out there and be more engaged participants in our democracy. And they recently launched their first podcast. And by the time you hear this, they’ll probably just have wrapped up season one of. Is that a fact? It’s a great podcast.
We will have links to the show in the show, notes to their website and to donate and everywhere else. And it cosmos about Slumdog, but so excited for this conversation. Tara, thank you so much for joining us here on sports today.
My pleasure being here. Thanks so much for having me. All right.
We’re coming off of this election cycle. We are coming off of a very volatile four years. But the problem with news and with the public, you know, ability to consume news and read the news and frankly, even get access to the news has been banned, you know, on the downfall for quite a while now. So just to sort of start us off, like tell us a little bit about the news literacy project and why you got interested in this type of work.
Sure. Well, the news literacy project was founded in 2008, so eight years before the election in 2016. And when everyone became aware of the term fake news and the project was founded by a long time investigative reporter, Allan Miller, who could see that there was a real hunger in the public to better understand the news and information, particularly in a social media digital era, and that as a journalist, he could mobilize other journalists to help the public better understand how quality news and information is created, what goes into it, what the standards are, and how to separate that from, you know, misinformation, spin, propaganda, hoax, all these other types of information that are getting mingled in even opinion that are getting mingled in with news these days.
And so the project started in classrooms in a few key cities in the country, and we’ve now expanded through an online virtual classroom to every state in the country and actually around the world.
It’s interesting that you started in 2008 right here, sort of as social media was blowing up and becoming this integral part of our everyday lives. But even before that. Right, this confusion of news versus all those other characteristics of the information that we receive, you know, we are subject to 24 hour news cycles. Even local news and national news, frankly, has been almost anything but. Right. Right. Like it seems that most of those shows, even though they have the word news in them, really are just a form of entertainment.
Is that something that you’ve been also trying to combat a little bit? Sure.
I mean, I think the issue is that there’s such a blurring of the lines these days between particularly opinion and news. And I think that’s something that’s been studied very carefully. 24 hour news has had a lot to do with this because it’s much cheaper and more efficient to put panel of subject matter experts or so-called subject matter experts on a 24 hour news channel than it is to fill 24 hours of airtime with reported stories. Right. Because it takes a lot of research and reporting and money and time to really produce the kind of stories that you might see in an investigative news piece or on like 60 Minutes.
So obviously, you can’t do that in a 24 hour news environment. And so I think that’s where the problem began. And then it’s only been aggravated by the hyper speed of the Internet and social media. And now everybody has a pulpit and can weigh in on social media and express their opinions and blend fact and entertainment and satire and opinion with what might actually be legitimate news.
Reminds me of something I heard very recently. Where. You have to pay to get the news, but disinformation and misinformation and the lies are free and readily available.
That’s interesting. I haven’t heard that, but that actually makes a lot of sense. And there’s been also a lot of talk to about, you know, if the highest quality news organizations are going to have a paywall, what does that do for access for the people who might need that news and information the most? Right. So if only people who can afford it tends to be, you know, college educated people of a certain income who are paying for their news and paying for these subscriptions, you know, what does that mean?
Everyone else is consuming. And there was actually an interesting argument made by Michael Luo, who is one of the guests that we interviewed on our podcast, and he said that the argument could be made, that the best reporting that’s being done by these news, those news organizations that only a few subscribe or whatever, however many subscribers are paying for, actually ends up filtering throughout all different channels anyway. So like if The Times does a major groundbreaking investigative story, you know, for example, on President Trump’s financials and his tax returns, that news is going to filter throughout the Internet and people are going to see it.
But there’s no question that the lower quality, disinformation and misinformation is circulating much faster. I mean, there’s that expression that a lie travels around the world much faster than the truth.
Well, and you said it yourself. It gets filtered, right? It gets filtered through opinion and twist and slant. And so. Right.
You can read a 10000 word story from The New York Times on Trump’s financials, or you can read the seven word headline that came from the blog that sourced this, that looked at this, that heard it from this, that whatever. And by the time it’s like a bad game of telephone, by the time we actually get to hear it.
That’s absolutely true. There’s no question. You know, before we get to your podcast specifically, I wonder if you think that the podcasting space as a whole is actually helping in a way to spread better news, because, like you said, a lot of in-depth, substantive news is behind a paywall or feels a little restrictive. But you are getting so many organizations and so many people who are going out there and telling in-depth stories and delivering it for free via podcast.
Is that somewhat encouraging or is that something that you have thought about or looked at as a as an organization?
I don’t know if we’ve really looked at it as an organization. And in fact, this is the first time I’ve really been confronted with this question. But I think what appealed to us about the media is that it’s a long form medium. It’s you know, we’re we’re putting out, on average 30 minute episodes. So you get a lot of time to explore a subject. Our lessons that we put on techology aren’t even maybe 30 full minutes of recorded instructional video because there’s a mix of different assessment questions, et cetera.
So this is really the longest form platform that we have available to us right now as an organization. And I think I would say I happen to be a huge fan of radio as a medium nonprofit radio, especially NPR, my local affiliate, WNYC. I’m a huge fan of the medium because I do think it tends to be more thoughtful. You can really explore subjects in depth. I love the fact that it’s just audio. It’s for the ear.
There’s something different about consuming information through the ear only. That said, there is a lot of talk radio and podcasts that I’ve never really thought that the medium necessarily defines the message. Right. I think it can shape the message. But at the end of the day, I think that you make of the medium what you make of it. And for example, like social media has gotten tremendous criticism for a lot of the misinformation, disinformation that spread today.
And there’s absolutely no question running rampant with no rules of the road and no regulation. It is a problematic medium, but it’s also open the doors for a lot of voices that haven’t been heard and that haven’t been able to express themselves. It’s really helped. You know, things like the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction. I guess my point is I think it’s great to have a long form medium and we’re enjoying it for that purpose and really being able to dig deep into the topic that we’re covering.
But I also think that there’s plenty of podcasts that serve different purposes.
That is a thousand percent fair and unfortunately very accurate. The organization does a lot of work with education educators and institutions. But right. As a parent hearing this as. We were talking before, I have young children and a lot of people that I know of young kids, and what would you say? Just like quick, you know, a few easy tips or information to ensure that the next generation is. Smarter, more engaged and, you know, better understands how to consume news responsibly, which is terrible and I even have to ask that question that way.
We tend to talk about it in terms of what can be done on the demand side and what can be done on the supply side. And at the news literacy project. We’re really focusing, obviously, on the demand side. Right. So what can we as news consumers do, regardless of what’s going to be happening in our information environment right now? Our information environment is essentially a fire hose, and it’s really incumbent on the individual to know how to sort and filter information.
That’s one of the first things that we teach our students at the news literacy project is how do you separate news from opinion, from propaganda, cetera, from entertainment. And so to answer your question, I you know, it’s hard for me to really see beyond news literacy when it comes to children. I think it’s a fundamental life skill and that given the information environment that we live in, it’s essential that all schools be teaching some form of news literacy and it doesn’t even need to be a stand alone course.
And that’s certainly not how we typically tend to talk about it. It’s really multidisciplinary. It’s something that can be applied in your science class, in math and social studies and English. But I think that there really needs to be I think parents need to push their educators to make sure that this is on the agenda and that they’re teaching this in schools. And parents at home need to be watching the news, reading the news, looking over their children’s shoulders while they’re on social media, talking to their kids about what they’re seeing on social media and what they’re consuming if they’re old enough and making sure that their kids really have a good idea and a good understanding and those analytical skills that they need in order to understand the limitations ultimately of this information environment that we’re living in.
There’s a lot of places where we need more literacy in our lives. I mean, just because of the space that I tend to work in, financial literacy, news, literacy, it just we are failing ourselves in our society. A lot of ways. And just one more place where we have to we have to rethink our approach to education and to empowering the next generation.
Well, yeah, I think with each generation, our world gets more complicated and more sophisticated and it requires more of us as members of that society.
And yet it feels like as we’re moving forward, we’re catering to the least common denominator instead of trying to bring everybody up to a higher level, like it feels like from what I know of education today. Right. We’re somewhat lowering the bar to get everyone just the pass as opposed to trying to elevate the bar, to get people more empowered, more informed, more educated, which. Is just an opinion, but reflects a sad state of affairs and way off topic and what we’re talking about that could help.
And we work with educators and we see how much they do to bring news, literacy and other kinds of literacy to their classrooms. I think a lot of it has to do with resources, finding the resources and the time. And it is true that with standardized testing and state requirements, educators are fairly limited at how much they can go beyond those standards. But I think one of the reasons why the standards are getting more and more packed with the expectations growing.
And I do think the expectations on students are growing. I don’t know that they’re being lowered. It just becomes harder and harder for educators to get everything that they want and need to teach students on the table, which is why I think, you know, parents have a role to play in this as well.
Great point. And I’m glad we have that discussion. But I do want to bring it back to why we are here, why I was so excited to bring you on the news literacy project has is that, in fact, as I said, by the time most people hear this, you have wrapped up or will be wrapping up episode one if you are catching it beforehand. They’re doing a live event on November 18th, which I would encourage you to check on.
We’ll be sure to include a link. But tell us, what was the inspiration for the is that a fact podcast? And what do you love about this project that you’re doing right now?
Yeah, this is a major passion project for me. I’ve been with NLP for 10 years and I’ve gotten to do a lot of really exciting, fun things. And this is one that I have really enjoyed sinking my teeth into. We’ve been kicking around the idea of doing a podcast for several years and we didn’t always necessarily have the capacity or it wasn’t the right time. And then this fall, we actually expanded our mission. You know, we’ve always served educators and students and schools, and our primary mission has always been and remains to bring news literacy to students in middle school and high school through educators.
But we expanded our mission to also bring news, literacy tools and resources to the general public. And so it seemed like the perfect time to launch a podcast. So we imagine that the educators in our network would probably want to listen and might even want to listen with their students. But we also thought that the general public who’s been following our work and those who are learning about us for the first time could learn a lot about how to be a better news consumer today by listening to the podcast.
So it’s not designed to be strictly educational, but we dive into topics that you may have heard a little bit about in your news consumption habits. You know, people have heard about Russian Russian disinformation and how it may have influenced the 2016 election. But a lot of people, that’s where their knowledge ends. So we spend an entire episode talking about that, for example. So it’s things that I think people could really I mean, if we were having cocktail parties, we weren’t all stuck at home, it would be great cocktail party fodder for people to really show off their knowledge about current events and what what’s really happening in the news literacy landscape, what have you.
As you know, it’s an organization that one understands media in general because you are focused on news and news literacy. What have been some interesting things that you’ve discovered about producing a podcast, distributing a podcast, growing a podcast. So what are some things that from your experience, other folks who want to use this medium for a good cause to make the world a better place can can learn from you?
Well, my expertise has been in video production and post-production, and that’s one of the things that I brought to the news literacy project for years. And so I thought podcasting would be a fairly seamless transition. I should know better, though, because. Being a photographer is different than being a videographer, and podcasting is different than video production. I do think my background in video production definitely helps, but yeah, no, I’ve had to learn pretty much everything, being our executive producer, Mike Webb.
Mike Webb has actually done this before. He worked at ProPublica for years and launched a podcast there. And so he has experience getting one off the ground and most of the nuts and bolts of the actual podcasting. In fact, he had an editor that he worked with previously who we brought on right away. So we’re not doing any of the audio editing, which is fantastic. We had the theme music composed by the assistant to our CEO, who also happens to be her name is Aaron Bush.
And she also happens to be an incredibly talented musician. She’s a singer songwriter and she composes music. So she created are this really kind of like a homegrown project? She created our theme music. We brought on this video editor and he gave us guidance in how to create kind of like a home podcasting studio at first before covid or before we all understood maybe how long we would all be living in a kind of pandemic universe. We had imagined that I would record in Tim Kramers, our editor, we would record in his studio in the East Village, and then we both ended up decamping upstate.
And so we did our first few episodes, but I did them remotely from place I was renting upstate. But we had like one session together where he kind of showed me the ropes of the road caster pro. And we’ve done all of our interviews over the phone connected right into the road. Castra we learned some painful lessons early on about adapters and cables that we needed to get our my Apple devices hooked up to the road. KASTOR It’s been interesting, though, because on the one hand, there’s a lot of flexibility and understanding from guests in terms of, you know, many of us have kids at home.
We’re recording on schedules. I’ve done every single interview while my twin three year olds were either napping, still asleep in the morning or asleep at night. So the reason you and I are speaking at this hour is because they have gone to bed.
We your sleep through the morning. I am so jealous they do it well. So ever since daylight savings ended, it’s been a little bit different. But yeah, they were sleeping till nine. But the downside was they weren’t going to bed till like nine thirty or ten. You know, I’m not a morning person, so that worked for me. But in any case, sometimes I would wake up early to do a podcast interview, you know, at eight a.m. or whatever.
I wasn’t too painful and then just go into my day waking them up, etc.. But, you know, that’s been an interesting aspect. You know, one of our guests, Michael Luo, also has young children. So we did our I think he was our very first interview. We did that at nine o’clock at night till 10:00. But so far, there haven’t been any major interruptions or anything, the occasional dog barking.
But people are pretty understanding about all that challenges aside of recording, editing, producing a podcast, you know, dealing with hours, dealing with the pandemic. What have you learned as far as growing this podcast, really getting this out there to your users? I mean, I assume the news literacy project already has a thriving community before the podcast. But I’m just curious what you have seen that works to spread the word and get more people to actually click play?
We had a pretty modest goal to begin with in terms of downloads. We also have, like you said, we have a network and an email list of tens of thousands of educators and other stakeholders and those interested in our work supporters, et cetera. And we’ve actually found that we got the biggest bump when we emailed. We had an email that was dedicated to talking about our podcast. So it wasn’t like a mention among other products or services that we’re launching or that we have going on.
It was a dedicated email to this podcast and we saw actually more traffic to our podcast, landing page, more downloads and really got some momentum from that. But we’ve also benefited from our guests tweeting and sharing about the episodes that they’ve done with us. And so the vast majority of the guests we’ve had on the show have large Twitter followings. They may not be the most well known, but they do tend to have pretty big social media followings. And so I think without fail, all of them have either retweeted or shared the episode directly.
I got to imagine that Kara Swisher doesn’t hurt Kara Swisher. Yeah, we were very fortunate to get her. And we definitely have our board member, Walt Mossberg, who co-founded Recode with her to thank for that. Tremendous supporter of our work gave me some advice about interviewing. So he was really helpful with that episode. Absolutely.
This is definitely tearing down the they’re going a little too behind the scenes. But I used to work at the Wall Street Journal and so I used to interview Walt all the time for his tech column. And we get to we used to chat with Kara every so often about some tech stuff.
So that’s definitely not too behind the scenes for me. I think that’s fabulous. Yeah, some of our listeners would be like, OK, yes, but I that brings a big smile to my face to hear you talk about Kanwal Walt like that. So what would you say then? You know, one in terms of just podcast production, podcast producing, podcast distribution, podcast marketing. But more importantly, you know, in the context of what we are talking about, information and news literacy.
Right. What would be your advice to someone who has a story, has, you know, important information to share, wants to make the world a better place? What would be your advice to them, given not just your experience? Is that a fact, but vice president for creative services, the news literacy project, like there’s got to be some really great sage wisdom that you can provide, you know, the next crossborder.
So the way I would answer this is by just sort of sharing what we did and how we approach this. And from the beginning and this might be also my background in video production and a lot of the video production we do an LP is more storytelling and it’s more geared towards like creating almost like mini documentaries about either educators or board members or students who have been impacted by our programs. Right. So I’m coming sort of from that angle. We knew we wanted to do an interview format for a variety of reasons, at least for this first season.
We decided to tackle this in seasons so that we could tackle one season and then reassess if we needed to.
And so once we decided we were going to do it in seasons, we were like, OK, so what is and this is where it comes back to my video production background. What is the story arc of our season? We knew we wanted to do about 10 episodes. It’s an election year. Obviously, we’re heavily focused on, you know, with civic engagement being the ultimate outcome of the work that we do and being news literate, an election is like the ultimate expression of that civic engagement.
So we were already focusing heavily on misinformation around the election and making sure that voters had the information they needed to make smart and informed decisions. So we knew we wanted to focus on misinformation and the election. But then there was a lot of discussion about democracy and is democracy in danger. And a lot of people were focusing it more on sort of partisan concerns.
But when we really looked at it and took a step back to us, it became really obvious that misinformation is what is ultimately endangering our democracy, that the inability of individuals to really properly assess the quality of the information they’re consuming and make informed decisions from that is what is the ultimate threat to our democracies.
And then we decided, well, let’s make every episode about a particular threat posed by our current information environment to democracy. So we looked at social media, we looked at disinformation and foreign interference.
In particular, we looked at an autocrat can impact press freedoms in what ultimately is a democracy on paper. So we looked at the Philippines and Maria Ressa work there.
We’ve also explored our final episode is about Truth Dekay, which is sort of like the ultimate expression of the breakdown of information within a democracy.
We looked at the importance of local news in a democracy and the fact that local news organizations have been closing across the country over the past 10 years. We had an overall theme and sort of a journey that we knew we wanted to go on, and we knew that that journey would wrap up right around the election. So we also knew we had a destination. We didn’t know what the outcome would be at that destination, but we knew that all of these issues would be factors in the election.
So my advice, I guess so that’s my long way of saying I have intention. I think and I’m not saying, oh, our podcast is so successful and it’s we’ve nailed it. I mean, I think there’s a lot to learn. And I think one of the things that we would love to explore is more actual storytelling, you know, that would take a lot more resources and time. But, you know, is there a way to really bring more emotion to the subject?
Because we’re working in a very sort of academic world and it’s very intellectual and we can make that more accessible on.
Our podcast, but can we also bring in more humanity into it and do more storytelling, so that’s something that we’re maybe going to think about for season two?
I cannot wait. I would tell everybody who is listening and can’t stress this enough. And I think you made a great point that this isn’t about left or right. This isn’t about right or wrong. This is about we can’t. Cooperate, we can’t compromise, we can’t negotiate, we can’t come to the table if we can’t agree on the facts and we can’t agree on the facts, if we are allowing our news and information sources to be polluted by both reckless misinformation and flagrant and purposeful misinformation.
And so I would highly encourage everybody who is in the space and everybody who just cares about our ability to cooperate and work together and who cares about a democracy functioning to check out newsletters or go and hit that donate button. We’ve said it before. It doesn’t always take a lot of money to have an impact. Sometimes just a dollar or so lets people know that there are lots of people who care about this even more than people who can. Then a few people giving a lot of money.
So we’ll have a link, of course, to donate to the news literacy project at newsletter or I believe it’s just news. Logush, donate and of course, check out is that a fact podcast. We’ll have a link to the website. Link to them on Apple, Google, Spotify in the show notes, call spots, DOT blog. And if you are catching this before it is happening, they are doing a live event on November 18th to close out their season.
We’ll tweet out that link. I’m sure it’ll be available post live event for people to check out. This has been such a pleasure. I cannot wait when you guys announce what your topic is for season two. Would love to welcome you back and talk about that and talk about that topic is thank you so much for taking the time to talk not only about the podcast, but just about a topic in general that I found really, really fascinating. And hopefully we can altogether do more to improve upon.
So thanks for joining us here on crockpots tonight. Thank you.
I really appreciate it. And I should also say that we are closing out the season with that live event on Wednesday, November 18th at five thirty Eastern in which I will moderate a conversation featuring Enrique Acevedo of Sixty and six, Jane Litvinenko of BuzzFeed News, and Joan Donovan, a research director at Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
But we’re also going to be turning that into a recorded podcast that will be releasing. So if you don’t catch the live event, be sure to catch the edited version of the podcast, which will be Episode 10 of our season, and we’ll wrap it up. Excellent.
And of course, all that at News Lithgow. And we’ll have a link again directly to the podcast News Logush podcast. There are once again, thank you so much. It’s just it’s really been a pleasure.
Thank you so much, Matthew. Really appreciate it. Thanks for listening to this episode. Of course, iPods, if you’ve been inspired by the work of our guest, please check out the show notes of this episode in your podcasting app or at Cause podcast dot org. There you will find links to their show, their website, their podcast, links on Apple, Google, Spotify, as well as a link to support the charity that they highlighted here.
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And before I go, I should say thank you in particular. The show is edited and produced by Ben Kilroy of the military veteran dad’s podcast. And what a great job he has done. And all this is made possible because of the great support that I received from Shannon Rojas here at the podcast Consultive Dotcom.
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