traci's lists of ten

Traci's 45th List of Ten:
Ten News and Journalism Interrogations

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:

  1. [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.

  2. [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 comparisons—you 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 events—and that suggests why the publishers have adopted the practices that they have in their coverage.

  3. [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 story?

    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 event—not 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.

  4. [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 appearance—what 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 analyzed.

    *For instance, 60 Minutes, the local evening news, news segments on Today, and so forth.

  5. [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.

  6. [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.

  7. [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 reporting—what 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 section.

  8. [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.

  9. [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.

  10. [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 page—are 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 they—action 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?

Originally Posted on the site on February 10, 2003.