the Clock: An activity to build media-savvy students
Government, civics, journalism, communications
time of Completion: 45 minutes of class time and one optional research homework
mini-lesson and activity is designed to help students understand the time constraints
on broadcast journalism and analyze the differences between publicly funded newscasts
such as the "NewsHour" and commercial television news.
will learn how to:
the time constraints on broadcast news.
data collecting and data display skills.
the main difference between news programs such as "NewsHour" and commercial
to National Standards
2. Copy of Gettysburg Address: Printer-friendly PDF
3. Assignment worksheet: Printer-friendly PDF
Explain to the students that television news is constrained by time. That while
time alone does not make for in-depth reporting; the lack of it certainly prevents
it. As 75 percent of the American people say they consider television their primary
source for news during an election, the issue of time is an important one when
evaluating a broadcast news show. Most
news broadcasts offer very little in-depth reporting comparable to that which
is available in the print media.
may wish to write the following comparison on the blackboard to help make your
news on ABC, CBS, NBC
minutes, including 8 minutes of commercials
usually in 30 minute segments (again, including 8 minutes of commercials)
sports, weather, and conversation
- 54 minutes,
1-3 minute underwriting credits at beginning and end of show
To illustrate the relationship between time and content in news broadcast have
the students complete one or all of the following activities.
Print vs. Broadcast: Who says the most?
a student to read aloud from an article on the front page of the newspaper about
a major news event. Using a watch, stop the student from reading after 90 seconds.
He or she will have read somewhere between 90 and 150 words. Discuss with the
class whether this amount of information is sufficient to understanding the events.
At some point during the discussion share with the students that 90 seconds is
the average length of a broadcast news story.
Extension: You could
show the students a video clip regarding a major story from one of the national
newscasts and ask them to compare the content and time to one from the NewsHour
The Amazing Shrinking Sound Bite
bite: a video or audio clip of someone speaking, usually inserted in a broadcast
news correspondent's report.)
the students into manageable groups of 4-5 and distribute copies of Lincoln's
Gettysburg Speech. Ask them to select an 8-second portion of the speech that best
represents the point he was trying to make. (The 8-second requirement is important
because the average network sound bite has shrunk to 7.3 seconds from 42 seconds
in the 1968 presidential election. See http://www.cmpa.com/pressrel/electpr5.htm)
Have the students read their selections with the class. Share with the students
that this is now the average length of a sound bite on television. And ask them
what effect this shrinking time on commercial news is having on candidates' ability
to have their views known.
and contrast time offered to candidates between the NewsHour and commercial newscasts.
Rather than the Gettysburg address, you could give the students a recent speech
by the president. They may be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov
1. Distribute the assignment worksheet provided
in the materials section. Explain to the students that the object is to record,
as carefully as possible, the use of time by the various evening news programs.
Each student, or pair of students, is assigned a specific program. They are to
compile notes on the contents of the show using the assignment worksheet so that
the elapsed minutes may be easily recorded.
2. In a subsequent class,
group the students so that each of the shows is represented in each grouping.
Provide the students with time to organize the newsprint so as to display their
data. (Encourage them to draw clocks, bar graphs, or other illustrations that
visually display their findings.)
3. The students are to complete
the following tasks:
A. Describe how the two or three major news stories of the night were treated
on the various programs.
B. Compare and contrast the treatment of these
stories on the various networks.
C. Compare and contrast the primary
difference between the manner and way these stories were treated on the commercial
newscasts with that of the NewsHour, illustrating their conclusions with specific
Have the student present their work to the class.
This lesson addresses the following national content standards found at http://www.mcrel.org
Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and
interpret visual media
1. Uses a range of strategies to interpret visual media (e.g., draws conclusions,
makes generalizations, synthesizes materials viewed, refers to images or information
in visual media to support point of view, deconstructs media to determine the
2. Uses a variety of criteria (e.g., clarity, accuracy,
effectiveness, bias, relevance of facts) to evaluate informational media (e.g.,
Web sites, documentaries, news programs)
Understands the characteristics and components of the
4. Understands production elements that contribute to the effectiveness of a specific
medium (e.g., the way black-and-white footage implies documented truth; the
way set design suggests aspects of a character's socio-cultural context; effectiveness
of packaging for similar products and their appeal to purchasers)
5. Understands aspects of media ownership and control (e.g., concentration
of power and influence with a few companies; diversification of media corporations
into other industries; the commercial nature of media; influence of origins on
a media message or product).
the Author James McGrath Morris is a member of the social studies department
of West Springfield High School, in Springfield, Va. A frequent writer of lesson
plans for PBS, Morris has served on the PBS TeacherSource Advisory Group. In 2002,
he developed nationally distributed lesson plans on 9/11, conducted teacher training,
and was a member of the "9/11 As History" project Advisory Board.