At the start of the semester, CU journalism professor Mei-Ling McNamara finds students who not only can’t tell her what’s on the front page of any paper any particular day, they don’t know who the secretary of state is.

But she doesn’t just throw up her hands. She keeps giving them news quizzes and grading them rigorously. The students soon figure out that they need to stay informed.

McNamara, other CU professors and students this year began trying to do even more. They’re hoping what they call the Media and Public Literacy Collaborative can start conversations to dispel some of the misconceptions readers, viewers and listeners have about journalists – and the myths journalists have about what audiences know and what they want to know. The CU team hopes to help members of the public become more active in informing themselves.

At a meeting in Boulder May 19 organized by Colorado Press Women, McNamara shared some steps the collaborative already has taken, such as campus talk-backs following big news events where students can discuss both the event and how it was covered. The project has also reached out to partners like Pop Culture Classroom – the people behind Denver’s Comic Con who promote literacy.

McNamara was very interested in CPW’s plans for a July 11 event to introduce journalists and educators in Colorado to the News Literacy Project, an international education nonprofit that takes journalists into middle and high schools to talk about the role of a free press in a democracy.

And McNamara’s quiz-taking students?

“They improve over time,” she said.

Even more heartening to me was hearing that her young charges want to commit journalism for the same reason I and other professionals do.

“I think that students have an interest in helping the public, informing the public,” McNamara said.

Story and Photo by Donna Bryson