September 15, 2014

John Carroll, former editor of The Los Angeles Times, summed up the way he and many journalists tend to worry about the future on day one of the News Literacy Summit in Chicago: “If the old media fail, who will supply the journalism that the nation needs?”

But now Carroll is chair of the News Literacy Project, and the question he thinks about is different: “What about demand?”

During the summit, funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and organized by Poynter, two news products for kids highlighted how they’re contributing to the news literacy movement by making the news accessible and interesting to kids as young as 7. Their efforts to make kids want to read the news could offer lessons to all news organizations.


The goal of the News-O-Matic app for iOS and Android is to help elementary-school students “become habitual readers of the news for the rest of their lives,” said Russell Kahn, editor-in-chief.


News-O-Matic covers five stories per day — and sometimes directly asks its readers to decide what those stories will be.


(Conference attendees had a chance to vote on what News-O-Matic should cover, too. They picked a story about Malala Yousafzai — a popular person of interest in the news for News-O-Matic’s audience — over stories about Scottish independence and Swedish elections.)

The app includes a feature that uses GPS to map where stories take place in the world in relation to where the students are. It also encourages participation and feedback; readers can submit questions, opinions and even drawings about the news directly to Kahn. That’s a deeper level of engagement with reader than many news organization aimed at adults offer.


Dan Cogan-Drew, Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer of Newsela, emphasized how much reading ability can vary even within individual classrooms. Newsela solves that problem by offering five different versions of news stories at five different reading levels with its “proprietary, rapid text-leveling process.”

On its website, readers can toggle between all five versions:


That’s a cool solution for providing relevant reading-comprehension materials to educators including news literacy in their lessons, but all news organizations might have something to learn from this product for kids. Adult news consumers have wildly varying needs when it comes to news, too. Why are so many stories still one-size-fits-all?

More on the News Literacy Summit

Information about the News Literacy Summit in Chicago, concluding Monday, is available here, alongside many more news literacy resources.

The Robert R. McCormick Foundation put together a Storify of tweets from the first day’s sessions, which covered best practices and how to embed news literacy in school curricula:

The Storify for day two of the summit is here.

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
Sam Kirkland

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