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Every year the University of Zurich’s Research Center for the Public Sphere and Society (fög) publishes the Yearbook Quality of the Media. In addition to in-depth studies on current developments, the center collects data on media use in Switzerland. One of the statistics that stands out is that the number of people who are “news deprived”, i.e. consume little to no news content, has increased with each edition of the yearbook, and this year reached a new high: 43 percent of respondents reported below-average media consumption. Traditional media such as printed newspapers or television news are barely on their radar. The little news this news-deprived group do get comes almost exclusively from online sources – mostly via social media.
“The percentage of news-deprived people is particularly high among young adults between the ages of 16 and 29,” says Maude Rivière, executive director of the fög. In a previous study carried out in collaboration with gfs.bern, the researchers were able to show that media use correlates with participation in political voting: while news-deprived people are the least likely to participate in voting, 70 percent of those who regularly consume Swiss media do. “We saw that action was needed, so we launched the CheckNews project to promote media literacy among young people,” says Rivière.
The aim is for school students to deal with different sources, recognize differences and thus learn to assess the quality of the information.
CheckNews is made up of cross-media learning environments on a range of topics and encourages school students to engage with different types of media. The topics revolve around issues that are relevant for young people today, from body images on social media, fake news and climate change to the war in Ukraine and cyberbullying. Each learning environment features games, tasks and group activities as well as an extensive collection of reports from various media. “The aim is for school students to deal with different sources, recognize differences and thus learn to assess the quality of the information,” explains Jens Lucht, co-project manager of CheckNews.
Some of the learning environments also include recent research findings, for example on the topic of fake news. It is based on a fög study on disinformation and shows school students where people in Switzerland come across fake news and how they can recognize falsehoods.
“Our survey shows that study participants mostly encountered disinformation on social media,” says Rivière. “It is therefore essential that young people stay critical when it comes to their media consumption.” One of project’s goals is to show the differences between journalism-based media and social media. “Journalists have to adhere to certain standards, which isn’t the case for other content producers. This includes, for example, balanced and factual reporting,” Maude Rivière says.
Our survey shows that study participants mostly encountered disinformation on social media.
The latest module focuses on how journalists work and produce content. Media professionals will discuss their work in webinars, starting in the fall. For example, the co-heads of the fact-checking department at the Swiss broadcasting company SRF will explain how they identify fake news and talk about tools that the school students can then try out themselves. The head of video news at the free daily newspaper 20min will talk about how he plans and films video segments, and the students can then produce their own videos, while a journalist from the local news outlet tsüri.ch reveals some of the tricks of her trade.
The interactive webinars are also available to schools remotely. “Experienced teachers will guide the class by providing prompts and activities and answering questions,” says Lucht. The webinars will be recorded and the recordings made publicly available as teaching materials on CheckNews.
CheckNews provides extensive materials to support teachers in the classroom. “There are fact sheets and instructions on how to use the teaching materials for each learning environment,” says Lucht. Teachers can also find materials for the webinars that help them prepare and follow up on the topic in class, including a tech support desk that can help teachers and their students when it comes to recording videos and using editing software.
CheckNews is available online through the IQES learning platform, which offers many benefits. Over 10,000 schools in the German-speaking part of Switzerland already use the platform and can therefore also access CheckNews. In addition to creating learning environments, the IQES experts also handle the didactic preparation of the materials online. All teaching materials are tested in the classroom by experienced IQES teachers before publication and revised if necessary. “For specific topics such as climate change or cyberbullying, we also bring in external expertise,” says Lucht. New materials and offers are added to the non-profit project, which is funded by various foundations and the SNSF’s Agora scheme, on an ongoing basis.