For immediate release | August 27, 2013

San Antonio teens learn how to be responsible news consumers through News Know-how program

CHICAGO — Teens are the future of our Democracy. As they grow up to be voters, it is important that they be prepared to be smart consumers of information.

San Antonio teens received the training that will help them along that road, thanks to the News Know-how program offered by the San Antonio Public Library’s Teen Services Department at the Central Library, in partnership with the American Library Association and the Open Society Foundations.

Fifteen teens (grades 10-12) were given a two-week course in media literacy, learning to view the news they are exposed to every day in a critical way. Teens learned how to spot misinformation and propaganda and distinguish between a reporter’s fact and opinions. In the end, as teams, they produced their own reports, sharing what they learned in public presentations.

The program, which began July 22 and ended Aug. 2, lasted about five hours each day.

“News Know-how is a great program that we hope will empower teens with knowledge that will last a lifetime,” said Jennifer Velasquez, teen services Coordinator for San Antonio Public Library. “We are excited to offer the program and plan to have a lot of fun learning about the news.”

Velasquez said the library thought the program would be a perfect fit. What was especially attractive was the opportunity for the teens to work with the trainers, who would provide the news literacy component, while the librarians would supply the information literacy component.

“We are very aware that we have got to be providing training not just in basic library skills but also in new literacy skills,” she said. “And we knew that media literacy and digital literacy and news literacy were going to be such an important facet of what we needed to do.”

Once the program was made available to the teens, the library was floored by the response from applicants, who heard about the opportunity on social media as well as traditional media.

“We were just overwhelmed by teens that applied to be in the program,” she said. “We had 41 teenagers apply. And we had spaces for 15.”

In the application, teens were asked to submit a written application that included information about their interests but wasn’t too much like an essay.

In a video produced by the library, the teens gave a variety of reasons for their interest in the program.

“I find news very interesting and it’s of such vital importance in our lives,” said 16-year-old Chelsea.

“I really already like learning how to read between the lines and stuff, and I just want to learn how to do it better,” said 14-year-old Abby.

Velasquez said the library was looking for a diverse group from a variety of high schools.

At the first get-together, the teens were introduced to the trainers, as well as an evaluator — someone from the University of Illinois will be doing an assessment.

“It was nice, because I think it gave the teens a taste of the way we’re going to conduct things,” she said.

Among the activities, the group attended a Google hangout.

“Video introductions were made. Each one of the teens got up and stuck out their face in our MacBook’s camera and said, ‘Hi’ to the trainers and researchers.”

The trainers then took some time to explain what was going to happen during the two weeks of the training. The youths were also given some pre-work to do, looking at some news stories and beginning to ask themselves some questions about them. In addition, they talked about why news matters, as well as about free speech.

“How do you know what to believe was a big theme on the first day,” she said, “and what are the challenges and opportunities of getting your news from the Internet.”

The idea, she said, was to move teens beyond being consumers of news into creators of news or digital media online content, with the goal of their creating the media end piece.

On day two, the program focused on “The Power of Deception,” while on the third day, a local journalist, Charlotte-Anne Lucas, the executive director of a grass roots, Web-based news agency called NOWCastSA, spent time with the group talking to them about journalistic standards.

On the fourth day, the students divided into groups prior to starting their projects, while on day five they pitched their projects to a panel, including library staff members. In addition, library staff provided some information literacy training, grounding them in basic research and identifying fact from fiction on the Internet.

On Friday, Aug. 2, the teens presented their projects before an audience that included library officials and board members. In the process, they learned multimedia skills.

The students produced a YouTube video that took advantage of a recent TV news gaffe to show the need for skepticism even in the face of credible news sources.

The video begins with two anchors sitting at a desk as in a “professional” news program. On “AMBV4-TV,” “where the best news is brought to you,” the anchors read a story about the recent Asiana plane crash, reading off the names of the crew members, much as a San Francisco TV news station did — only the names turned out to be bogus.

The video then cuts to two teens watching the newscast. One suspects that something may be up, but the other says, “The names do sound pretty unusual,” but since this is a newscast, “I think we can trust them.”

A subsequent scene shows the anchors correcting their mistake.

The scene then cuts back to the skeptical viewer, who originally questioned the accuracy of the report, said, “I knew there was something wrong with those names.” He and his friend then go over a method for avoiding mistakes called the CHECK system.

  • Confirm your Information Neighborhood
  • Have high standards for credibility
  • Ensure that the information has been verified
  • Consider responsible next steps
  • Know what you can believe: ask questions

“I think that it is important for libraries and librarians to understand that the institution and we as professionals play an important role in helping teenagers beyond just finding library materials,” Velasquez said. “We’re beyond getting teens used to using the card catalog to find books on our shelves.” In addition, she said, “We’re beyond the point where we’re just providing access to the Internet. We need teens to be able to evaluate information as they find it on the Internet — and part of that is evaluating news and media.”

But that isn’t all. Teens must also be aware of the role they play in the creation of news and opinion, by joining conversations online and posting comments and make sure “as they are entering that conversation, that civic conversation, that they are being responsible creators.”

Learn more about the News Know-how initiative and view all student presentations from 2012 at


Steve Zalusky

Manager of Communications

American Library Association

Public Information Office (PIO)