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
- Why do you think this story was included in
- Where can you get more information about
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
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.
Compare news stories in television, radio and
Choosing the News
- Have students choose a front-page story in
- 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.
- Estimate the percentage of the newspaper
article remaining, beyond the first 90 words.
Was all the important information covered in
those first 90 words?
- Discuss how the amount of information you
get from TV and radio compares with the
amount you get from a newspaper?
- 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.
- 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.
- Obtain an hourís worth of wire service stories
from a local TV or radio station or newspaper
and review them.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Stereotypes and Bias in the News
- 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
- sensational stories."
- 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.
- 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?
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
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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Discuss what images of teens has been portrayed
by the news reports in your community?
- Ask them if the headlines are fair about what
is going on in their daily lives?