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Pulitzer Center Update January 18, 2011

New York: News Literacy Through The Global Water Crisis

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In Dhaka, Bangladesh, the public sewer system covers only one-third of the city (Photo by Stephen Sapienza).

In fall 2010, the Pulitzer Center partnered with Baruch College's High School News Literacy Summit, which brought together schools and organizations with an interest in news literacy to share best practices and engage directly with students from ten New York City public high schools.

The Center brought it's issues awareness and student reporting approach to the summit, believing that if the public knows about the events and trends in their community and world, then they will be better able to sort fact from opinion and reality from distortion.

In preparation for the summit on November 12, the Center made multiple visits to three schools: the NYC Lab School, Tenzer Learning Center in Manhattan and Lehman High School in the Bronx. Pulitzer Center staff and journalist Bill Wheeler talked with the students about global water issues, working to make connections between the global issues and local implications and manifestations.

To solidify these connections, Wheeler advised students on reporting techniques and strategies, and gave feedback as the students reported on water issues in their own communities. At the NYC Lab School, students were particularly interested in the state of city's water system, finding that the often-repeated claim that the city has amongst the best water in the world is actually quite tenuous and contingent on uncertain continued investment. Lehman students found that the Bronx River has serious pollution problems—and that the challenges developing countries face with clean water are in their neighborhood, too, but at a smaller scale.

At Tenzer, the approach was a bit different. These students are recent immigrants to the US with most coming from China, but also from elsewhere in southeast Asia and Latin America. They interviewed their parents about their experience with water in their home country. In Vietnam, farmers contend with the paradox of decreased rainfall and increased flooding. Along the Minjiang River in China's Fujian Province, runoff from pig farms turned a once clear river dirty.

On the day of the summit, Wheeler ran workshops to discuss the students' reporting ideas and the work they had done so far. Pulitzer Center journalists Lisa Armstrong and Andre Lambertson talked about the need to look beyond the tragedies that garner headlines to the trends that spawn them, using their recent work on the aftermath of the quake in Haiti as an example.

At the closing summit-wide talk, Wheeler, Armstrong, and Lambertson joined Garry Pierre-Pierre, editor of The Haitian Times, to discuss the media's treatment of Haiti's earthquake and its efforts at reconstruction. Video poems about Haiti's earthquake survivors by Pulitzer Center journalist and poet, Kwame Dawes, were also featured.


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