Interview: Professor Richard Hornik On Stony Brook’s Global News Literacy Conference

Aug 12, 2017

Richard Hornik, lecturer and director of Overseas Partnership Programs for the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University.
Credit Stony Brook University School of Journalism

Officials at the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University say the truth is in trouble. They say news consumers are inundated with fake news, propaganda, hoaxes, rumors, satire and advertising that often masquerades as, and drowns out, fact-based journalism.  

On Sunday, the Center will open a three-day global conference that they say will confront the challenges of this ongoing information revolution that’s fueled largely by social media.    

WSHU’s All Things Considered Host Bill Buchner recently spoke with Richard Hornik, the director of Overseas Partnership Programs at the News Literacy Center, about the conference. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Welcome.

Well, thank you very much.  

How did the idea of this conference develop?

Actually we’ve been working on this weekend for quite a long time. The Center was started about 10 years ago, it’s part of the School of Journalism at Stony Brook. And it was created by our dean, Howard Schneider. The course was created as a way of trying to teach people what they should get from journalism and what they should demand from journalism. And then about five years ago, we began to spread it overseas. We anticipated the era of fake news by quite a bit.

What do you hope to achieve through the upcoming conference?

Well, we’ve got now partners in seven different countries around the world that we’ve worked with. They’ve taken our curriculum and they’ve adapted and adopted it to their own circumstances. We’ve got participants from Poland, from Russia, even Vietnam. 

And we’ve actually, over the course of the last five years, have changed the way we teach news literacy because of some of the insights some of our colleagues have had. So what we’re trying to do is create a global community of people who are teaching this course as a way of strengthening it and eventually of dealing with some of these issues that have arisen, that have been particularly obvious in the last year.   

On the webpage of the conference, it says one of the goals is to develop strategies expanding news literacy to new groups of learners. Who are these learners and what exactly is news literacy?

It’s basically a course of critical thinking. It’s how to evaluate the quality of the information we get, wherever we get it. Initially we were mostly focused on undergraduates. We’ve taught over 10,000 students at Stony Brook in the last 10 years. And another 6,000 in the United States in other universities and overseas. But we want to expand that. 

We now believe that in fact, we really need to start giving these life skills to everyone. We’re particularly interested in middle school students, 12-year olds. And we’re also interested in going out to the general public. So for the middle school, we’ve got an initiative in Coney Island at I.S. 303, where the students get an hour of materials related to our course every week. 

And we’ve also launched what they call a massive online open course with Coursera, a MOOC, called, Making Sense of the News, which is meant for the general public. But one of the things we really want is to get consumers to understand their power. That by demanding reliable information, people will get reliable information.

If you think about what’s going on here in the United States, with the troubles we’ve had in the journalism business, I worked for Time magazine for 24 years, the new media outlets, outlets like BuzzFeed and Vice, they’re getting better. They’re getting more reliable and we think that’s because people are demanding it. So we want to accelerate this process of people demanding better, more reliable information.  

Professor Hornick, thank you for your time and good luck with the conference.

Well, thank you so much. It was a great pleasure talking to you.