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Classroom Session

Journalistic Politics: 
An Interdisciplinary Learning Experience

Tami M. Devine, Rocky Hill High School

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Content: Tracing and evaluating the national and local media coverage of a particular issue allows students to learn to determine the existence of bias and the role of perspective (including other “filters”) in the dissemination of information. In charting the differences between newspapers’ treatments of the same issue, students will begin to understand the idea that truth is both relative and subjective. By the end of the exercise, students should recognize the symbiotic relationship between media and society, and they should be both more informed decision makers and consumers of information. 

Materials Needed: 

  •  List of national current events or topics of interest. Topics could be drawn from the following sources:
    • CT General Assembly Office of Legislative Research “Major Issues” publication
    • Political news, criminal trials, advances in scientific/medial research, finance, international relations, and other top news stories (the New York Times is an excellent resource—they e-mail daily headlines. Other sources include the Hartford Courant, Boston Globe, LA Times, etc.). Students need to be able to compare national coverage to town coverage, so a town or county newspaper must also be accessible.
      Click Here for Newspaper Links.
  • Background information on the role of press in American Society (could be provided by teacher verbally, via handouts, or from the Student Press Law Center at http://splc.org ). The SPLC has specific information about the first amendment, ethics, bias vs. objectivity, and the concept of the “press as a watchdog of a free society,” to name just a few.
  • Blackboard or overhead projector, pens, paper.

Class Time: The amount of time devoted to this topic could range from 3 days to 2 weeks, depending upon the relevance to overall course objectives, students’ level of interest, and teacher’s discretion. 

Objectives: Students will analyze media products, evaluate the role of “filters” employed in media coverage, including perspective and bias, using selected national issues/events, draw conclusions about how individuals within society determine “truth,” uncover the symbiotic nature of the relationship between media and society, and reflect both orally and in writing to synthesize learned concepts and ideas.

Activity: Students should be provided with background reading on the role of press in American society prior to the first day of classroom work.

  • Day 1: “What do you know and how did you find out?” This activity serves to help students to begin thinking about how and where they gather information, and how that process affects their understanding of the world in which they live. Further, students will begin to recognize their own information gathering patterns, and identify the gaps and limitations that result from that process.
    1. Teacher selects a topic currently in the news, preferably one to which all students have had some exposure.
    2. Teacher writes the topic on the board or on an overhead projector and asks the students to copy the topic onto a piece of paper. 
    3. Teacher asks students, “What do you know about this topic”? There should be no discussion as students write everything they know about the issue on their papers.
    4. After 5-10 minutes of silent writing, teacher asks student volunteers (as many as possible) to come to the board and record key points/facts from their papers.
    5. Teacher asks all students to read the information on the board and write down any points/facts they had not originally written on their papers (in a separate column).
    6. Teacher facilitates a class discussion in which students reflect upon how and where they gathered the information about the issue, and the gaps that existed in their knowledge bases. 
    7. After discussion, teacher distributes photocopies of an article from a local paper (about the issue) to half the class, and copies of an article from a national paper to the other half of the class. Students are asked to read the articles silently, underlining any new information. 
    8. One student who read the local article and one who read the national article volunteers new information aloud to the class.
    9. Teacher leads class discussion about the gaps filled by the articles, the perspectives of each media product, and the extent to which (subtle) bias is employed.
    10. Homework: Students write reflectively about the questions raised during the class period. Questions could be provided to students if teacher desires.
  • Day 2-3 (and beyond): Class chooses a national issue or event currently in the news.
    1. Group activity—divide class into four groups: 1) local newspaper (town or region), 2) Larger state newspaper (Hartford Courant, Waterbury Republican, etc.), 3) National Newspaper, 4) Alternative news source (online, school paper, TV or radio news, weekly magazine, political cartoon, editorial, public relations source, etc).
    2. Each group analyzes their assigned media product and prepares presentation.
    3. Presentations and discussions of possible biases
    4. Comparison and contrast of each news source—what was included and excluded in each? What kinds of connections were made and why? If each source was consumed in isolation, what gaps would exist in an individual’s understanding of the issue? How would the individual and society be affected in general if this source was the only media source ever consulted? How are we influenced by the media? Why do journalists make the choices they do and how do those choices affect the way we think?
    5. This activity could be continued for as long as the chosen issue runs through the news cycle. The students’ understanding would then be evolving with the media’s coverage of the issue.
  • Day 4 (or after conclusion of prior activity): Culminating activity- written reflection/project: teacher’s choice.
  • Extension Ideas
    • Students engage in independent research- Choose a focus area and trace the coverage by a specific paper, or by two different papers. Students collect artifacts from the media source and write daily reflections about the existence of filters, bias, and the exclusion/inclusion of information.
    • Students survey the school community about where and how they gather information, as well as how students view the credibility of the media. Results could be used as basis for a school newspaper article, editorial, or class presentation.
    • Students examine one issue of a local paper and (in groups) comb the issue for examples of subjectivity. Students list all examples, and in a class presentation, discuss the possible reasons the lack of objectivity and the effects on the reader.
  • Assessment Suggestions
    • Rubrics could be developed and used for several phases of this lesson, including the students’ level of class participation, the quality of the students’ oral presentations, and the depth of written reflections. 
    • Portfolios could be used if the exercise is extended in order to follow the life of the issue in the media. Students could keep all work in their portfolios (including at-home and in-class reflections, copies of articles, and any other artifacts gathered for the exercise. 
    • An in-class essay exam could be used at the conclusion of the exercise, in which students respond to the essential questions posed at the beginning of the lesson.
    • Students could write editorials to the school or community newspaper stating their opinion about bias and subjectivity in the media, using their learning to fuel their discussions.
  • Essential Questions: The essential questions to be addressed in this extended interdisciplinary lesson are as follows: 
    • What tools do we use to make informed decisions?
    • How do we determine truth? 
    • What is the relationship between society and the media? 
    • Through what filters does the public receive information? 
    • How does an individual’s view of issues and events change depending upon the media’s interpretation? 
    • Does true balance exist in media coverage? 
    • What is bias and how can it be recognized? 
    • How does exclusion of information (as well as inclusion) influence an individual’s interpretation of an issue?
    • What are the moral implications of the concept of the press as a watchdog of a free society?
    • How are politics and journalism connected?

If you have any comments or suggestions about this activity or would like to submit your own activity, please contact us and share your ideas.