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Pulitzer Center Update January 5, 2021

On-Demand Webinar for Educators: Media Literacy and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Women share their stories about witch hunts at ANANDI, a Gujarat non-profit group that supports vulnerable women. Image by Seema Yasmin. India, 2017.

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On Tuesday, December 1, 2020, educators joined the Pulitzer Center and the Washington Teachers’ Union in a webinar with Dr. Seema Yasmin for a presentation on navigating reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Fareed Mostoufi, Pulitzer Center Associate Director of Education, started the webinar by introducing the Pulitzer Center’s mission and sharing a short video to highlight the importance of under-reported stories and how to find them. The video (below), which features members of the Pulitzer Center editorial team, discusses connections between the current coronavirus pandemic and the flu pandemic of 1918—both of which lacked essential news coverage that could have helped inform and engage the public.

In a moderated discussion with Mostoufi and Hannah Berk, Pulitzer Center Education Manager, Dr. Yasmin spent some time briefly discussing her background and described how her experience reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic compares to her experiences reporting on past public health emergencies. Around the fifteen-minute mark, to engage participants, Dr. Yasmin posed a scenario to illustrate tough decisions that journalists face. She shared the following information on screen, then provided a deeper context to the real series of these events that took place in Italy earlier in 2020.

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Assuming the role of journalists in a newsroom—who often have small windows for decision-making with such pressing information—participants only had a few seconds to think and answer the question. Most disclosed that they would not have withheld the information, arguing it would be in the best interest of the public to share. Dr. Yasmin exposed what actually happened in early 2020—that the journalists made the decision to immediately publish. She then shared that the public’s response in Italy was to try and leave, which resulted in crowding at public transportation stations that ultimately led to a significant increase in COVID-19 cases. 

This portion of the webinar had participants consider the impact of news—especially during crises—and how to critically analyze news sources. Yasmin also posed the question, “Who is being left out?” The discussion then began to explore ways that educators can inspire their students to navigate misinformation and disinformation, and how students can apply journalism and creative writing skills to begin documenting under-reported stories within their own communities. This provided a smooth transition for educators to use the Q&A and live-chat functions to ask questions and provide thoughtful reflections.

One educator shared that their students were asking two questions in regards to the pandemic: “How will the pandemic come to an end? How can students help their communities?” 

Dr. Yasmin appreciated the hopefulness of the first question and answered, drawing from past historical events and her medical expertise. She emphasized the availability, affordability, and benefits of a vaccine. She also cautioned that even as vaccinations become available, the public should not let their guard down. Mostoufi, Berk, and Dr. Yasmin invited participants to share their reflections in regards to that second question about how students can help their communities: 

One participant shared, “I think the most important role for a young person is just to be educated.” 

Another said, “I think they should share the techniques we teach in school with their families. I always tell my students I'm not teaching media literacy because they're kids--we ALL need to learn these techniques! (And great webinar, thank you!)”

These reflections continued in a post-webinar evaluation:

An educator from Chicago Jewish Day School, Jennifer Saba, mentioned she would apply what she learned in the webinar for her own classes: “We are always drawing threads from history to current events. In the past I have taught a brief journalism unit.” 

“I think I will invite a journalist and spend some time teaching journalism skills to students,” shared Jameelah Samuels, from Brightwood Education Campus in D.C.

Another educator from Brightwood, Brittney Vail, said she enjoyed “hearing about the pandemic from a journalist/medical doctor's point of view” and will “have my students think critically about the information that they hear in the news.” 

The Pulitzer Center invites educators to view the webinar at their convenience to discover tools for connecting their students with reporting on today’s crucial issues. Please contact [email protected] if you have any questions or need assistance connecting a journalist to your classroom.

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