Independent Thinking Blog

The Importance of News Fluency in Storytelling

There’s a problem with the news. No, it’s not fake. But with photoshopped images and tweaked videos, it’s getting easier and easier to make the untrue look real.

Equally alarming are our filter bubbles. It’s not just that we’re looking for the news sources we trust, it’s that we’re rarely seeing beyond them. This is okay if we’re information omnivores or if we stick to a carefully curated set of objectively credible news sources. But, let’s be real: lots of us are also reading what our friends are sharing — and that’s often reflective of our biases (left, right, or center).

As Buffalo Springfield wrote:

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

The American Press Institute has been thinking a lot about how we consume stories and what journalists can do help people distinguish good reporting from bad. And they’ve come up with a plan.

The importance of news fluency.

The Library: Building News Fluency

API posits a need to “create journalism differently,” and it all starts with the concept of news fluency (as opposed to news literacy). API writes:

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.

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.

At the heart of API’s proposed approach is a focus on ensuring that key questions are answered (and answered upfront) much as nutritional labeling has given consumers a better understanding of their food choices. API calls this the “show me” approach.

How to build a better story.

API has created a series of templates for different types of news stories:

  • Standard news stories
  • non-investigative projects
  • Investigations
  • Fact checks
  • Explainers
  • Breaking news
  • Live events
  • Features
  • Opinion

Each template identifies some of the critical questions that a reader might ask about a topic. They’re not the stuff of rocket science, but they are the stuff of news fluency.

So how do we help people master the news? Equally important, who’s responsible for this? API’s focus is journalists, but increasingly they’re not the only people building and publishing stories. Which raises the question: what role do companies, public relations professionals, and other content creators have in how we tell our stories?

Library by Max Langelott (Unsplash).

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