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Do Americans Even Care About Hard News?

Carl Addington of Smith Middle School in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Carl C. Addington
Randy Smith Middle School
Fairbanks, Alaska

Title: Do Americans Even Want Hard News?

Description of School and Students

Randy Smith Middle School is one of four middle schools in Fairbanks, Alaska, with a population of 435 students. The student body is ethnically mixed: white, Alaska native, Hispanic and Asian. This unit will be taught to 8th-grade U.S. history students.

Generative Topic

  • News and entertainment

Generative Objects

  • Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report
  • News clips from NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America," with commercial breaks

Understanding Goals:

  • Essential or Guiding Question
    • What is the difference between “hard news” and “news you can use”?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • Will people watch or read pure hard news and commentary? Why or why not?
    • Does the content of a news program, a magazine or a newspaper affect what we as consumers purchase or wish to purchase?

Performance of Understanding, Rational, and Time Line

(2-3 Days)

This lesson is intended to show 8th-graders the relationship between corporate America, multinational corporations and their influence on the media. It follows a discussion of the difference between hard news and “news you can use”, e.g., health stories, travel news, lifestyle stories, human interest stories, etc.

Students will watch the news segments and write a summary sentence describing each.

They will also take note of what kind of commercials follow each story or set of stories. Then they will arrange their list of stories into two categories: hard news and news you can use. After they arrange their stories students will, through class discussion, reach consensus on the difference between hard news and news you can use. Then they will try to match commercial products advertised in chronological proximity to the news stories.

Discuss with students reasons why some advertising seems to follow certain kinds of stories. Introduce the concept of the corporation; that is, a parent company that owns a variety business interests. Show them that broadcasting networks and publishing companies are often owned by national or multinational corporations.

Conduct a brainstorming session with students in which they offer situations where there may be a conflict between how news is reported and the interests of corporate sponsorships.

After this discussion, direct students to the Columbia Journalism Review’s Web site: http://www.cjr.org/owners/ . This Web site provides a fairly comprehensive listing of large corporations that also own newspaper and magazine publishing companies as well as broadcasting companies. This listing also shows what other business concerns the corporations have.

Give students lists of different broadcasting companies and publishing companies. Direct them to find who owns these entities, by using the Web site listing and write them down. Then have them explore through links from this Web site what other companies these corporations own and what products or services they sell.

After students complete their searches, put up a large piece of butcher paper and create a table of their companies and parent corporations, along with their products or services. Then, continue the discussion about possible conflicts between how news is reported and the interests of corporate sponsorships.

Finally, have groups of four students write a summary of what they learned, then have them make appointments with members of the faculty to report their findings and discuss these issues with a faculty member. (Our school is very conducive to this sort of project, as our staff routinely avails itself to student reporters.) Students should publish their stories in the student newspaper, if possible.

Assessment

  • Successful completion of Internet search assignment.
  • In-class writing assignment.
  • Summary and report to faculty member.
  • Participation grade.

Resources Recommended

  • Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report
  • News clips from NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America," with commercial breaks
  • Columbia Journalism Review Web site: http://www.cjr.org/owners

Carl Addington’s lesson plan "Do Americans Even Want Hard News" was published in The Media and American Democracy Compendium 2000, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 154



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