Posted to NCTE-Talk, NCTE-Middle, WCENTER,
WPA, and TechRhet on 02/09/03.
The one thing that we never seem to run out of
is news. Often, to be honest, there's just far too much news for my
taste. Perhaps the news overload wouldn't seem so problematic if it
weren't the case that so much media coverage these days sways frequently
toward sentimental remembrances, commercialistic kitsch, or blatant
propagandizing. We are faced with an overabundance of information,
left to determine what is truly "news" and what is not.
These assignments aim to help students evaluate the news they see
in meaningful ways that lead them to their own conclusions and questions,
rather than simply accepting whatever they see or hear.
ALSO if you're interested in a complete lesson plan on these topics
take a look here:
- [MAKE IT WEBBY!] With the increasing use of the World
Wide Web, many television news programs have taken on what might
be considered a web-like screen layout. Take a look at a news
program such as CNN Headline News, MSNBC, or the nightly news
on one of the major networks. What features does the news layout
have on television that you might find on a Website? How do the
spaces on the television screen relate?are all pieces concentrating
on the same news story? different news stories? topically-related
stories? Write a paper that analyzes the layout that the television
show you've chosen uses. Your paper should explore why the show's
creators have chosen the features that they have, why they have
relied on "Webby" look and feel, and why the information
that is shown in that layout appears where it does. In general,
your paper is to explain how and why the show has web-like features.
- [COMPARISONS] Choose a specific aspect of an event recently
in the news. Be sure to narrow your focus: don't try to cover
an entire election campaign; for instance, consider a specific
campaign rally. Don't try to cover an entire labor strike; instead,
cover a particular protest or vote by union members. Once you've
chosen your focus, examine the coverage of the event you've chosen
in at least two different reports. As you choose your resources,
try to find reports that will provide interesting comparisonsyou
might compare the reports on CNN to those on the local news, the
reports in TIME to the reports in a newspaper, the details
in a radio report and those in a newspaper. Examine your resources
carefully, looking for similarities and differences. What is covered
in one place but not in the other? What words are used to describe
the event, and how do those words compare? Once you've gathered
details, consider why the differences and similarities exist.
Why do the two reports differ? What can you tell about the resources
where you found the reports based on the differences and similarities?
Write a paper that explains your findings and hypothesizes how
the differences change the way that readers (viewers, or listeners)
think about the eventsand that suggests why the publishers
have adopted the practices that they have in their coverage.
- [VISUAL IMAGES] How are visual images are used in news
coverage? Either turn the TV around, use the radio, or turn off
the images on a web page so that you can concentrate completely
on the words, without the influence of the pictures that accompany
the story. How does the visual aspect manipulate the story? How
would it be different if it were words only? What is missing and
what is gained when there is an image? What if there were a different
picture? How does the kind of image that is used relate to the
Follow-up/Extension: Prepare materials for your class by
going to a Website's coverage of a particular event. Copy the
text of the coverage into a word processor and print it out. Separately,
collect pictures of the eventnot just the picture that appeared
with the story you printed out, but many pictures. Print out color
copies of these pictures. Give all these materials to students
and ask them to choose a pictures to go with the story, based
on their reading of the story and the way that they'd like to
use visual images to complement the story. Evaluation: Note that
the point isn't to choose the "right" picture, but to
make a choice and explain it.
- [GENDER] Consider the image newscasters present on a
particular news show,* and how that image relates to their gender.
When are men the reporters and when are women? What stories do
they cover? What techniques do they use (interviewing others,
referring to reports, etc)? In addition to the stories, consider
the appearancewhat kind of clothes do they wear? how is their
hair styled? Are they standing or sitting? Based on your observations,
write a paper that explains how gender affects the show that you've
*For instance, 60 Minutes, the local evening news, news
segments on Today, and so forth.
- [NEWNESS] How often is the information in the news reports
truly "NEW" information? By definition, news is about
current or recent events. But do local stories that you hear,
see or read really focus completely on current events? Just how
"new" is the news? When does a non-recent event seem
to return to coverage? Once you've examined the mix of new and
old on a program, place yourself in the role of the show's producer.
Your show is doing well in the ratings, and the new station manager
has asked you to provide some guidelines that outline the kinds
of stories that you want on a show and how the kinds mix in a
broadcast (in other words, how much is very new, how much is follow-up,
and so on). The station manager is interested in learning more
about why the mix on your show is working well and whether it
can be used for other, less popular shows that the station broadcasts.
Write the guidelines that you'd give to the station manager.
- [HARD OR SOFT] Outline a newscast or documentary, and
label the various segments as either hard, factual reporting or
soft, more emotional/opinion-based reporting (or into "news"
and "personal interest," if you prefer). What are the
goals of the entire show? How has the interplay between hard and
soft been set up? When and how does the newscast shift from one
kind of reporting to another? How does this blend of hard and
soft news affect the newscast or documentary as a whole? As you
analyze the program, work toward theorizing the reason that the
particular pieces were included and why they were included in
the order that they were.
- [ALMANAC] Consider the short summary coverage of an event
in an almanac, by comparison to more extensive coverage in another
reference book. There are several places that you can look to
see how news is recorded: (1) look at the top news stories, (2)
consider any featured articles or stories, (3) look at the chronology
of the year's events, and (4) US and World History for last year.
Depending upon your focus and the resources in your almanac, you
might also look at a particular section of the almanac (for instance,
the section on Education for and education-related story). Many
almanacs also have a miscellaneous or offbeat news section. Explore
the way that news events are covered in an almanac. Choose a particular
news event to investigate further. Compare its coverage in the
Almanac to its coverage in other news resources for that year
(for instance, in the newspaper, in journals such as Time and
Newsweek, and so forth). Write a paper that compares these two
kinds of news reportingwhat is left in? what is taken out?
Follow-up/Extension: You are a writer/editor for a company
that publishes an almanac. Choose a news event that has occurred
this year and write three documents for your head editor: (1)
A statement of purpose that explains why the event should be included
in this year's almanac (your underlying purpose is to persuade
your editor!), (2) the news story that you'd include about the
event in the chronology of the year's events, and (3) the longer
news story that you'd include about the event in featured stories
- [TEASERS] What do you see or hear in the commercials,
news briefs, or lead-in for a particular story? (In print/online
journalism, you might look at the headlines, pointers from a front
or home page to inner pages, and so forth.) Record the words,
images, and sounds that are used in an attempt to persuade you
to watch/listen to/read a particular news story. After you've
recorded your details, watch/listen to/read the story itself.
How did the teaser/headline relate to the story as a whole? What
part of the story did the teaser focus on? What parts of the story
were left? Based on your observations, write a paper which explains
how the particular news show or paper tries to persuade their
audience. Your paper will explain the persuasive approach that
the show or paper uses and how that approach relates to the details
(facts and opinions) of the actual show.
- [PROPAGANDA] Choose a specific story or documentary,
and use the coverage to create a definition of propaganda. Is
the story factual and realistic? Is it propaganda? Is it both?
How do you know? How do the names that are used play a part in
how the pieces are received? Think about names for coverage on
the news such as "America Under Siege" and "Target:
Iraq"why that name instead of another? What details are
given, and what details are excluded? Is there a sense of "right"
and/or "wrong" in the story? If so, how is it communicated?
Use the details from the story to illustrate your definition of
what is or isn't propaganda.
- [LAYOUT] Choose a print news resource (newspapers, magazines
such as Time or Newsweek, newsletters, and so forth). Write a
paper that explores how the layout and formatting choices affect
the presentation of the news stories. What font type is used (Arial,
Times, and so forth)? How are font size and style (bold, italic,
and so on) use? What is the layout on the pageare there columns?
quotations highlighted in boxes or the margin (these are called
"pull quotes")? How many stories are on a page? When
are graphics used? When there are graphics what kind of shots
are theyaction photos, pictures taken on a set with props, and
so on? Does the purpose or topic of the story affect the layout?
In short, what can you tell about a news source simply by looking
at the layout on the page?
on the tengrrl.com site on February 10, 2003.