Fourteen years after its founding and with a misinformation landscape many magnitudes more dire than anyone could’ve predicted, the News Literacy Project will herald in a new CEO this summer, marking a transition in leadership but not a change in direction for the education-focused nonprofit.
On June 30, founder and CEO Alan Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, will step down, allowing Charles Salter to step into the top spot.
Salter, who currently serves as NLP’s president and chief operating officer, will bring his background in education—as a teacher, a principal, a superintendent, and a nonprofit leader—to the organization’s growing staff.
In 2008, when Miller started the News Literacy Project following a visit to his daughter’s sixth grade class, he thought news literacy would be an important skill for students and educators in the age of burgeoning social media and smartphones. Indeed, it would turn out to be even more critical than he anticipated.
Misinformation “has actually become one of the greatest—if not the greatest—challenges of our time,” says Miller in an interview with EdSurge reflecting on the organization’s history and trajectory. “It underscores everything else: immigration, climate change, public health. If we can’t agree on what a fact is—if the marketplace of ideas breaks down—then how are we ever going to achieve consensus to tackle the other great challenges of our time? How are we ever going to bridge the digital divide—the digital abyss—if we have different realities of a pandemic, of the outcome of an election, of a war in Ukraine with Russia?”
Miller added that, 14 years ago, if someone had told him that tens of millions of Americans would later believe and promote “absolutely discredited conspiratorial thinking”—and would be acting on it in ways that influenced public health decisions and the health of our democracy—he wouldn’t have believed it.
“In many ways, I feel like we went from being a voice in the wilderness to an answer to a prayer, particularly after the 2016 election,” he adds.
From its inception, NLP has sought to be strictly nonpartisan, aiming to teach people how to think about the news and information they consume, not what to think about it, Salter explains. The organization has done that through a weekly email newsletter called the Sift, an online learning platform called Checkology, and other resources and programs that have together reached an estimated 2 million students in the last year and more than 50,000 educators in all 50 states and 120 countries.
A number of major events in recent years, including the 2016 presidential election in the U.S., have underscored the need for better news literacy—the COVID-19 pandemic and the riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, chief among them. During that time, the News Literacy Project has gone from a niche nonprofit to a leader in a national effort to create a more discerning public, starting with its young people and educators.
Now, as disinformation and misinformation continue to distort facts and manipulate truth—the most recent example being as large-scale as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—NLP has gathered some momentum.
In its first 14 years, the organization raised more than $35 million, from a combination of foundations, corporations, and major and small donors. It has also grown to employ 30 staff. In its next four years, NLP aims to raise $36 million and double in size to 60 staff. This summer alone, NLP hopes to hire for and fill 15 new positions.
Part of that expansion, which will be led by Salter, includes an effort to reach not only teachers and learners but the general public as well.
“We’re doing that through exponential growth of the organization and not stealing anything from education,” Salter explains. “We’re simply building a new half.”
As NLP evolves, it will continue its work in education and build out more programming on that side. One effort is to help more states adopt media literacy requirements, as Texas and Illinois have done. Others include plans to develop a graduate-level course that trains educators to teach news literacy and a national news literacy conference for educators and students.
“We’re going to take our practice to the next level with things we haven’t done—community building, training, certification,” Salter says.
On the general public side, the organization plans to create a platform that anyone can visit to check facts on major issues and current events and to learn more about how to evaluate news and discern credible from incredible information.
“Our goal now is to turn the mission into a national movement,” Miller says. “We want to change the way people share and consume information so there’s a much greater sense of personal responsibility. We want to change the culture, the way we’ve seen with smoking and drunk driving and littering. That is a key fact and key driver in the new plan for our organization.”
As Salter takes the helm this summer, Miller will stay on with the title of founder and serve full time for an additional year, primarily working to fundraise for NLP and advise Salter. He will remain on the board indefinitely, he says.
Salter, for his part, says that although he will usher in a period of dramatic growth and expansion for NLP, the staff and general public can expect stability and continuity under his leadership.
“My style of management and strategic planning and what I prioritize has slowly become the organization’s approach. I don’t think folks will see much of a difference,” he says. “There’s nothing I’m sitting on that’s going to radically change, no drastic culture shift or even a shift in our priorities, because those have melded together in the last four years.”