News Literacy / Why News Matters

Making the Case

A growing sector of the U.S. population does not distinguish between professional journalists, information spinners and citizen voices. The 24/7 news cycle and digital advances in disseminating information serve to further exacerbate this challenging situation.

Our News Literacy goals are to educate and energize citizens—especially students—about the value of news and assist them in developing a framework for assessing information. In partnership with our grantees, we aim to help citizens increase their ability to find critical information and develop a sense of ethics as digital citizens and media makers. We believe that the process begins as early as middle school and touches new Americans and under-served populations with the ultimate goal of a more engaged, informed citizenry.

Our research and analysis show news literacy programs provide:

  • A frame of reference to distinguish fact from fiction, opinion or propaganda.
  • An understanding of the First Amendment, the role of a free, independent media and the importance of journalistic values.
  • A curiosity to seek information and better understand communities, country and international affairs.
  • Help in navigating the myriad sources of digital information in a more skeptical and informed manner.
  • A foundation for exercising civility, respect and care in the exchange of information.

These priorities are especially important to youth as they seek to collect, analyze and produce credible information. Thus, to be news literate is to build knowledge, think critically, act civilly and participate in the democratic process.

The Why News Matters Initiative

The Robert R. McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program is in the second year of of Why News Matters, a grantmaking program designed to enhance news literacy skills and programs in Chicago. We expect to invest as much as $6 million in the Why News Matters initiative during the 2013-2015 period.

News literacy is the ability to use critical thinking skills to judge the reliability and credibility of news reports and information sources. It enables citizens to become smarter consumers and creators of fact-based information. It helps them develop informed perspectives and the navigational skills to become effective citizens in a digitally connected society. News literacy programs also emphasize the importance of news and information, the value of reliable sources and appreciation of First Amendment freedoms.

The Why News Matters initiative builds on the strong news literacy youth and teacher training programs that have been the core of the McCormick Foundation’s journalism funding since 2009. Since then, we’ve learned more about young people and how they access news and information. But we also have much to learn. In addition to our youth work, we hope to expand the initiative to engage broader Chicago-area audiences.

We want to help Chicagoans understand Why News Matters. Media organizations, high schools, universities, two-year colleges, community organizations, libraries and others all have a role to play.

Proposals that increase opportunities and participation in news literacy programs are of significant interest to the Foundation. Other topic areas include:

  • Increasing youth engagement with the news.
  • Supporting comprehensive, systematic policy efforts to include news literacy into the Common Core state standards.
  • Illustrating the impact of increased news literacy on critical thinking skills.
  • Sustaining teacher and educator networks that provide trainings, resources, equipment and curriculum guidance.
  • Building awareness of news literacy principles and their role in education through public policy, education reform and community engagement projects.

Find out more about the initiative at

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Robert R. McCormick Foundation
205 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 4300
Chicago, IL 60601

Phone: 312 445 5000
Fax: 312 445 5001