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For Teachers
Media Literacy Workshop
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What is News?
News is the information about recent events or happenings, especially as reported by newspapers, periodicals, radio or television.

News has two priorities: it must be current, and it must mean something to people. A story about the environment and a story about the Super Bowl are both newsworthy, but for different reasons.

On the surface at least, the objective of news is to inform the audience. It's the job of all the news media to tell people what's going on in their community — locally, nationally or globally. In this sense, the news media provide a valuable public service.

Understanding the News
Watch a television news story and analyze it with respect to the basics.

  • How important is this story?
  • What difference does it make to the average viewer?
  • Why do you think this story was included in the newscast?
  • Where can you get more information about this story?

What sorts of stories make it into the news, and why? Who decides which stories get reported, and from what angle? What challenges do reporters face, and how do these challenges affect the news we read and watch?

Media cater to their audiences. They report stories they think their consumers want to see, hear or read about. Most news stories are honest and factual. The competitive nature of news reporting can also necessitate shorter, more exciting stories to grab the audienceís attention.

Many stories can then become flashy and sexy or show shocking images that depict crime, death, disaster, confrontation, violence or controversy. When taken to these extremes, "news" can become just another type of sensational entertainment. Understanding the use of the media then becomes even more important to viewers.

Activities
Compare news stories in television, radio and the newspaper
  1. Have students choose a front-page story in the newspaper.
  2. Count the first 90 words and time how long it takes to read them. Note: This is the approximate length of the average story on a television or radio news report.
  3. Estimate the percentage of the newspaper article remaining, beyond the first 90 words. Was all the important information covered in those first 90 words?
  4. Discuss how the amount of information you get from TV and radio compares with the amount you get from a newspaper?
Choosing the News
  1. Discuss with students that hundreds of stories come into a newsroom each day and that there is a limited amount of time or space to cover all of them.
  2. Explain to students that with all these stories someone — a news director or an editorial committee — has to decide what will be reported on any given day.
  3. Obtain an hourís worth of wire service stories from a local TV or radio station or newspaper and review them.
  4. Then divide the class into the following groups: "local news," "network news," "USA TODAY, The Washington Post or other major newspaper," "commercial radio," and "Internet." Give each group a copy of the wire service stories.
  5. Their task is to decide on the lead story; the order of stories (for TV and radio) or the placement of stories (for the newspaper); and what will be left out. Have each group report and explain their decisions.

Comparing Stories
In the search for images and stories that will attract audiences, the media tend to focus on issues of crime, violence, tragedy and disaster. Car crashes and shootings are sure-fire attention grabbers, but a steady exposure to these images can give us a distorted view of what goes on in the world.

  1. Have students check the local TV news to see how much coverage is given to what the police and fire departments did today. Have students count the number of
  2. sensational stories."
  3. Have students log onto MSNBC, CNN, or MSN on the Web to see what kind of national or global stories reflect disasters, violence or confrontations. Discuss if this gives viewers or readers a distorted view of our country.
  4. Now have students log onto the PBS NewsHour Extra at www.pbs.org/newshour/extra. Have them examine how news stories are treated. Discuss how the news is presented. Ask if it is balanced and fair. Is it sensationalized?
Stereotypes and Bias in the News
The negative slant of the news often means that when young people (and members of minority groups) do appear in the headlines, it is often in the context of crime, drugs, violence, death or some other alarming issue.

By knowing how the news industry works, we can find out how to reach the people who shape the news in order to change reporting that reflects stereotyping or bias.

Most journalists try to be objective and factual in reporting events, but all news stories have a point of view. Each story is influenced by the attitudes and beliefs of the reporters or the photographers who select the images.

Most reporters are adults who see the world from an adult's point of view. They may also assume that their audiences are mostly adults who share similar views. So, age bias affects how they report an event — from an "adult" point of view.

Not all bias is deliberate. But you can become more aware as a news reader or viewer by watching for the following journalistic techniques that allow bias to "creep" into the news.

Here are some examples of bias or stereotyping that we typically find in the news.
  • Bias through selection and omission A report or editor can express a bias by choosing to use or not to use a specific news item. This is difficult to detect. Only by comparing news reports from a wide variety of outlets can the form of bias be observed.
  • Bias through placement
    Readers of papers judge first page stories to be more significant than those buried in the back. Television and radio newscasts run the most important stories first and leave the less significant for later. So, where a story is placed can influence the importance of it to a viewer.
  • Bias by headline
    Many people read only the headlines of a news item. Most people scan nearly all the headlines in a newspaper. Headlines are the most-read part of a paper. They can convey excitement where little exists. They can express approval or condemnation.
  • Bias by photos, captions and camera angles
    Some pictures flatter a person, while others can make the person look unpleasant. Papers can choose photos to influence opinion about, for example, a candidate for election. On television, the choice of which visual images to display is extremely important.
  • Bias through use of names and titles
    News media often use labels and titles to describe people, places, and events. A person can be called an "ex-con" or be referred to as someone who "served time 20 years ago for a minor offense." Whether a person is described as a "terrorist" or a "freedom fighter" is a clear indication of editorial bias.
  • Bias through statistics and crowd counts
    To make a disaster seem more spectacular (and therefore worthy of reading about), numbers can be inflated. "A hundred injured in air crash" can be the same as "only minor injuries in air crash," reflecting the opinion of the person doing the counting.
  • Word choice and tone
    Showing the same kind of bias that appears in headlines, the use of positive or negative words or words with a particular connotation can strongly influence the reader or viewer.

excerpted from Newskit: A Consumers Guide to News Media, by The Learning Seed Co. Reprinted with their permission.

Activity
  1. Ask students to think about news stories they have seen recently. Or ask them to bring to class examples of print, Internet or television reports that include stories about teens.
  2. Discuss what images of teens has been portrayed by the news reports in your community?
  3. Ask them if the headlines are fair about what is going on in their daily lives?
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