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May 9, 2018, 12:50 p.m.

News literacy is so last decade: Journalists and audiences need to focus on news fluency now, suggests a report from the American Press Institute.

“Literacy suggests someone is either capable or incapable of performing a task — in the same way one either can or cannot read. That doesn’t aptly describe what is going on with news. People consume news constantly, even at an early age. The issue is whether they recognize the characteristics of good reporting — such as thoroughness, good sourcing, strong evidence, the difference between hearsay and eyewitness evidence and more,” argue API executive director Tom Rosenstiel and accountability journalism program director Jane Elizabeth.

“The metaphor of fluency, by contrast, describes the process of mastering something you can already do. Fluency also is something you can accomplish on your own, through conscious effort.” That effort, they say, is the responsibility of both news producers and consumers, and journalists need to anticipate the questions the audience might ask beyond the story itself.

How could journalists actually do this? It’s not necessarily about putting a link to the news organization’s code of ethics at the top of every story, the authors write, but about creating stories that show the reporting work more explicitly. That could take the form of a list of sources in the story, a cast of characters for an investigative story in a box alongside the piece, links to the author’s bio page and previous work, contact information for the reporter and editor, and embedded documents or other materials used in the reporting process.

Rosenstiel and Elizabeth compiled a list of questions audience members might have when reading, listening to, or watching nine different types of journalism. These range from “Who are the sources and why were they chosen?” to “Why does this publication write opinions?” The full list of the questions and further explanation of news fluency is here. The ultimate hope is that news consumers can develop skills for telling the difference between high-quality journalism and low-quality journalism, if journalists make their reporting steps more obvious and help consumers anticipate them.

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