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Teaching teenagers about news - a call for help

Following the death of Charlotte Cooper (photo) in April 2017, a legacy project has been established in her name with the aim of getting teenagers interested in good journalism - and we need your assistance.

Set up with the help of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and Charlotte’s friends and colleagues in London, The Charlotte Project aims to teach news literacy and critical thinking to teenagers aged 15 to 18 through interactive workshops delivered in schools by trained Reuters journalists.

Peter Keep, Charlotte’s husband and founder of the project, said she was a passionate advocate of Reuters and its values of accurate, ethical journalism which is why she so enjoyed and excelled in the role of Learning Editor EMEA.

“But one of the many challenges she was trying to tackle was how to increase diversity in the newsroom. She said that when she gave talks at universities and journalism schools it was always the same faces looking back at her. We discussed the problem on many occasions and one of the ideas we came up with was to try and get to students before they got to university. That’s where the idea for The Charlotte Project came from,” said Peter.

The objectives of the project are:

  1. To provide students between the ages of 15 to 18 with the tools to enable them to navigate the maze of news, blogs, commentary and opinion disseminated on the web and via social media and help them to critically analyse and question what they are reading.
  2. To help young people stay safe online, identify radicalism and extremism, and engage with current events in a proactive and positive manner.
  3. To enable young people to engage with journalists, giving them a better understanding of the nature of the job and inspiring them to consider journalism as a career.

To date, five workshops have been delivered to a total of 120 students. Feedback from students, teachers and journalists has been very encouraging. Sarah Kenny from the National Council for the Training of Journalists said: "We had a fantastic experience at The Charlotte Project workshop we attended in April. It was a privilege to see how engaged the students were, and it was extremely valuable for us to have the opportunity to speak with them. We would definitely participate again."

Peter is currently in the process of registering The Charlotte Project with the UK Charity Commission so it has full charity status. In the meantime the project is preparing for the next academic year.

“We already have requests for workshops starting in September so we’re looking to recruit more volunteers and run a train-the-trainer session over the summer,” Peter said. “Our objective is run at least 24 workshops in the next academic year.”

On 13 June the Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills, run by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Literacy and the National Literacy Trust, published its final report. Its main findings were:

  • Only two per cent of children have the critical literacy skills they need to tell if a news story is real or fake
  • Half of children (49.9 per cent) are worried about not being able to spot fake news 
  • Two-thirds of children (60.6 per cent) now trust the news less as a result of fake news 
  • Two-thirds of teachers (60.9 per cent) believe fake news is harming children’s well-being, increasing their anxiety levels 
  • Half of teachers (53.5 per cent) believe that the national curriculum does not equip children with the literacy skills they need to identify fake news. 

Since the launch of The Charlotte Project similar initiatives have been launched by the BBC and The Guardian, although these are aimed at students from the age of 11. The Charlotte Project is currently in discussions with both companies to try and coordinate efforts so that as many schools and students as possible can be covered.

Want to get involved? If you’d like to deliver or help deliver a workshop (or two) you can join a train-the-trainer session over the summer (date TBC) and find out how. We are also looking for stories to go on the project’s website that give a practical demonstration of how facts were checked for particular stories, including the steps taken to check pictures and video. Have you got any examples?

To get involved please email Peter Keep at

You can follow The Charlotte Project’s progress via the Facebook page and its website

Belinda Goldsmith is editor-in-chief of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. ■