October 28th, 2004
Walter Cronkite: Witness to History
Procedures for Teachers

Prep

Media Components

Computer Resources:

  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above.
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM and/or Macintosh computer running System 8.1 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM.

Bookmarked sites:

Prior to teaching this lesson, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, or upload all links to an online bookmarking utility such as www.portaportal.com. Preview all of the Web sites, listed below, and video clips used in the lesson to make certain that they are appropriate for your students.

October 6, 2006 online issue of Forbes magazine – interview with Walter Cronkite by Leah Hoffman entitled “The Changing Face of News”

Walter Cronkite interview on NPR

The Agora in Ancient Greece

Hellenistic Ministry of Culture site on the Ancient Agora of Athens

The Virtual Agora – this article covers much wider issues and can be used to expand on the idea of an agora

The Roman Forum in Wikipedia

Capitolium.org site

Town Crier History

More About Town Criers

Norton Anthology site

“The Internet in a Cup” in the Economist

Library of Congress

The Word on the Street

Duke University collection

A Brief History of Newspapers

Grolier Encyclopedia article by Mitchell Stephens

World of Wireless

History of Radio

Wikipedia history of radio

Television History: The First 75 Years

History of Television

Media History Project

All About the Internet

Hobbes’ Internet Timeline

A Brief History of the Internet

The Inverted Pyramid Style of writing news stories

The Hourglass Style of writing news stories

Materials:

Teachers will need the following supplies:

  • TV/VCR/DVD
  • Chalkboard or Whiteboard
  • Copy of AMERICAN MASTERS’ Walter Cronkite: Witness to History
  • Pen and Pencil
  • Computer with Internet access

Introductory Activity

Goal: During most of Walter Cronkite’s era, our news came from newspapers, the radio, or on one of the three major television networks. In today’s media climate we get our news from a mind-boggling variety of sources: the traditional ones such as magazines, newspapers and radio, plus television, which not only has a wide variety of news magazine programming geared for every viewpoint on the political spectrum, but also entire stations devoted to 24- hour news coverage. The online news outlets and blogging may have truly democratized information, but ultimately, are we better informed? In this activity, students will craft interview questions and then conduct interviews with three subjects in order to assess the current state of the media.

1. Brainstorm with students a variety of local, national and international news available today. Keep track of student responses on a chalkboard or white board. (Responses will probably include newspapers, television and cable news, the Internet and blogs.) Use the following questions to process student responses:

  • Which of these sources do you use most frequently to keep up on world events?
  • If you do not follow the news, explain why not.
  • What sources of news do you consider most reliable?
  • What is “news” or what makes an event newsworthy?
  • What other types of information do you use these sources for?

2. Have students listen to an interview with Walter Cronkite conducted by Leah Hoffman in the October 6, 2006 online issue of Forbes magazine at this website:

www.forbes.com/2005/10/20/karlgaard-rich-information_comm05_cz_rk_1024karlgaard.html

Find the interview by scrolling down in the Rich Karlgaard article to the link to Leah Hoffman’s October 6, 2006 interview with Walter Cronkite entitled “The Changing Face of News.” As schools have different levels of technology available, the following are suggestions on giving students access to this online interview:

  • If you have one computer in your classroom, it can be hooked up to speakers so that the interview can be played for the whole class at the same time.
  • Have students listen to the interview in a computer lab.
  • If most of your students have their own computers, assign the interview for homework.

3. Tell students that for this assignment they will be interviewing at least three people on the state of the media today, and that it is necessary to go into any interview with good questions. Therefore, they will prepare their questions before they conduct their interviews. Explain that their questions should reflect the goal of the interview, be geared to the expertise of their interview subjects and be designed to come at the issue from several angles in order to explore the topic thoroughly. Encourage students to interview a representative sampling of adults and peers.

4. Have students list potential interview subjects. Then give students about twenty minutes to come up with their questions. It might be helpful if students framed their questions under general headings such as Sources of Information, News Reporters, Bias in the Media Reliability of Various News Sources, the Purpose of News, for example. If time does not allow for students to come up with their own questions, go to the worksheet entitled Interview Questions in the Student Organizers section.

5. Hand out Guidelines for Interviewing from the Student Organizers section and go over the following guidelines for interviews:

  • inform subject as to the purpose of the interview
  • ask the subject if you can take notes during the interview
  • assure the subject he/she can choose to ‘pass’ on any question without justification
  • use interview questions only as a foundation. If the subject exhibits a special expertise or passion on a subject, feel free to let the interview go in that direction
  • demonstrate to the interview subject that you are actually listening to responses by asking clarifying questions and asking for elaboration on certain responses
  • ask the subject if he/she would like to add any information that was not elicited by your questions
  • let the subject know how grateful you are for his or her time

6. After students have conducted their interviews, debrief their responses. Below are several suggestions as to how to debrief the information gathered from interviews:

a. Write the following categories on a white board or chalk board: newspapers, radio, television, Internet, other. Have students volunteer specific examples of each type of media they gathered from their interview subjects.

b. Elicit any consensus from interview subjects about the reliability of these sources.

c. Elicit any responses from interview subjects as to the information value of the media, e. g. did the interview subjects use the information in any way in their daily lives?

d. Have students whose interviewees felt well informed stand on one side of the room; have students whose interviewees felt under-informed stand on the other side of the room. Elicit some of the comments obtained during the interviews that led to these perceptions.

e. Assign an in-class writing assignment using one of the following prompts:

With the tremendous variety of information sources available in the United States today, how effective are these sources in keeping the American public informed about the world around them?

What is the most trusted source of information in America today? What has this source done to earn this accolade?

Anyone can start a blog on any topic. Does this contribute to our base of information or have a negative effect on information?

Learning Activity

Goal: In the 1950s, Walter Cronkite hosted a television program called You Are There in which real network correspondents ‘traveled through time’ to report events from history as though they were happening live. According to an NPR website on Walter Cronkite, it was a, “program that used real network correspondents to report events from days well before radio or TV in the style of ‘live’ television news. Called You Are There, the program taught history — and had a secret history of its own. All the writers were victims of the McCarthy-era blacklist. They used the tales of Joan of Arc, Galileo and other historical figures to make thinly disguised points about contemporary witch hunts.”

In this activity, groups of students will be assigned a period of history to examine. Each period focuses on a distinct type of communication and information. Students will research and then present a You Are There segment.

1. Organize students into groups of three or four. Within each group, one student will play the role of the interviewer and will be responsible for framing questions based on the group’s research. The other members of the group will be the actors and will need to devise a skit based on their research that highlights how information was disseminated during their time.

2. Hand out copies of You Are There Instructions from the Organizers for Students section. Make enough copies so that every student in each of the nine groups has a copy of the instructions.

3. The following are the segments to be researched and dramatized in their skits. Note: The events associated with each form of communication are merely suggestions. Please feel free to substitute events that are more relevant to your curriculum.

  • The Greek agora and the death of Socrates
    The Agora in Ancient Greece

    Hellenistic Ministry of Culture site on the Ancient Agora of Athens

    The Virtual Agora – this article covers much wider issues and can be used to expand on the idea of an agora

  • The Roman Forum and the assassination of Julius Caesar (this topic could be eliminated if necessary as the Forum functioned similarly to the Greek agora.)

    The Roman Forum in Wikipedia

    Capitolium.org

  • Town criers and the execution of Mary Queen of Scots

    Town Crier History

    More About Town Criers

  • European coffee houses and the French Revolution

    Norton Anthology site

    “The Internet in a Cup” in The Economist

  • Broadsides and the Boston Tea Party

    Library of Congress

    The Word on the Street

    Duke University collection

  • Newspapers and the opening engagement of the Civil War at Fort Sumter

    A Brief History of Newspapers

    Grolier Encyclopedia article by Mitchell Stephens

  • Radio and Edward R. Murrow’s reporting of the Battle of Britain

    World of Wireless

    History of Radio

    Wikipedia history of radio

  • Television and the death of John F. Kennedy

    Television History: The First 75 Years

    History of Television

    Media History Project

  • Internet and the invasion of Iraq March 20, 2003

    All About the Internet

    Hobbes’ Internet Timeline

    A Brief History of the Internet

    4. Students will need two to three days for research and two days to prepare their skits.

    5. Hand out You Are There Evaluation sheets from the Student Organizers section, and have the audience fill them out as each group presents its segment. Each student will need nine copies of this handout if you use all of the suggested events.

    6. Have students discuss the presentations and come to some conclusions as to which of the media was most effective using the following questions:

    • What makes a certain form of information effective?
    • What makes media reliable?
    • What impact does the medium of information have on an event?
    • How do events in history shape media?
    • Has face-to-face communication become obsolete in the era of the Internet?
    • Which of the older forms of communication (face-to-face contact, town criers, broadsides) would you like to see come back to prominence? Why?
    • Are radio, newspapers and television in decline as sources of information? Why or why not?

    Culminating Activity

    Goal: The journalistic writing style is a worthwhile form of writing for students to explore because it not only requires them to boil events down to just the facts but also is an excellent check of comprehension. In this culminating activity, students will write a news story about one of the You Are There skits they have seen and will decide whether to write the article in the inverted pyramid style or the hourglass style.

    1. Tell students that they will now write a news article about on of the historical events they saw in the You Are There skits. Make it clear that they will not be allowed to write about their own presentations and that they are to concentrate on the facts and ignore information presented on the dominant information medium of the time.

    2. Have students read and take notes on the following two articles by Chip Scanlon from The Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburg, Florida:

  • The Inverted Pyramid Style of writing news stories
  • The Hourglass Style of writing news stories

    3. Discuss the plusses and minuses of each style and have each student decide which style he or she will use in his or her article.

    4. Have students select one of the You Are There presentations (not their own presentation!) to write a news story about just as they would if their article was going to be submitted to a newspaper. As with a real newspaper article, you should assign a realistic word count limit of 750 or 1000 words.

    5. Review the following guidelines for journalistic writing before students start to write:

  • Your article should answer the questions Who? What? What? Where? Why? How? in a single paragraph.
  • Decide what other information belongs in the story and in what order.
  • Proofread your article carefully in order to be sure the facts are clear and to the point.
  • Be sure that all punctuation contributes to the meaning of the piece and all words are spelled correctly, especially proper names.

    Extension Activity:

    Have students write their culminating news pieces on the results of their interviews on the state of news and information in the 21st century. This topic could lend itself to an editorial or feature style of writing as students could inject their own opinions and solutions into their pieces.

    Invite a local television, radio, blogger or other news maven into the classroom. Interview this person as to the state of news and journalism today.

    Have students collect three news stories on the same current topic from three different sources (newspaper, on-line, etc.). Have them compare them for bias and journalistic style.

    To present more specific lessons on media literacy, see the lesson plans on Edward R. Murrow [coming soon] in which students are assigned to research the background of several current issues. Within these topics, students will research the sources of information used, search for bias in the reporting of these issues and events and analyze the role the media should play in these events.

    Salinger

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