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‘Extra! Extra! Read All About It,’ ‘News Break,’ and ‘A Special Report’

Gerhard Albert Fuerst of Kalamazoo Central High School in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Gerhard Albert Fuerst
Kalamazoo Central High School
Kalamazoo, Mich.

Title: “Extra, Extra!… Read All About It!” “News Break! “… “A Special Report!”

Description of School and Students

This unit of study is designed for both journalism and government classes, grades 11 and 12, at Kalamazoo Central High School. KCHS is an urban-suburban secondary school with an enrollment of 1,450 students and a staff of 86 teachers. Additionally, KCHS is an intern teacher training site for the directed teaching experience of students from Western Michigan University. The ratio of minority to non-minority students is approximately 45:55.

Generative Topics

The nature of news… A critical analysis: The relationship of:

  • news to news makers
  • the media to their customers (i.e. the regular and conspicuous consumers of the news products).

Additionally: The rights and responsibilities of the media in a free and democratic society.

Generative Objects Video:

“Switching Channels,” 108 min., 1987, is a remake but technically updated and contemporary version of the film classic “His Girl Friday”. The content is a fast-paced, entertaining, informative and thought-provoking tragic-comedy about the competitive business of “getting the story first.” The film is based on the play by Ben Hecht, “The Front Page.”

Understanding Goals

The essential question becomes: What identifiable features and characteristics distinguish one journalist from another? Most certainly it will be the quality of writing and reporting, and the skills or instincts of being able to ferret out the “great story,” “the exclusive,” “the scoop,” to get at the true source of news, etc. Perhaps it could also be just chance of being at the right place at the right time. However, it is not just getting the story first, it is getting it right that counts. Journalists distinguish themselves as professionals also as tireless and dedicated workers, who respect the fundamental ethics of truthfulness of their chosen trade and profession.

Furthermore, it must be understood that as such journalists first and foremost have to be public servants (although not in the traditional political or civil service sense), while at the same time having to be able to function within the confines of corporate structures, where the “bottom line” of profit is of uppermost concern. The latter consideration might impose some compromising restraints, restrictions and limitations on the professed sacred, constitutionally guaranteed and legally sanctioned freedom of the press. Additionally, journalists have to be able to adapt to the continuous challenges posed by rapidly evolving technology (not always innovative in the most congenial way) that could quite possibly encroach on their traditional turf, or could even imply a very obvious and direct threat of displacing them by alternative methods and systems of news delivery.

Essential Questions

  • What is news?
  • Who or what determines newsworthiness?
  • Who are the news makers?
  • Who determines what goes into print, is shown on TV, or gets reported on the radio?
  • What are the different categories of news?
  • What tactics and techniques are employed to collect, write, edit, and report the news?
  • How do the print media and the electronic media differ in gathering, disseminating, and reporting the news, besides the obvious technological differences?
  • What is a “news flash” or a “news break”?
  • What factors make news interesting or captivating, worthy of reading, and watching or listening to?
  • What are some of the cardinal rules of news gathering and news reporting

Critical Engagement Questions

  • Is all news reporting truthful?
  • Is all news of critical importance? If so, when and why, or how?
  • In what ways and under what conditions will news items affect you personally and directly?
  • What distinguishes ordinary news from news items that stir up a major interest?
  • Why are we so fascinated by and attentive to negative news, or news items that deal with tragic and catastrophic events?
  • What determines and distinguishes our “need to know” as opposed to our “right to know”?
  • What actions can be taken if critical, and potentially, dangerous, harmful, or even life-threatening news is being suppressed or withheld either by the media, by corporations, or by governmental institutions?
  • What public policies prohibit, limit, or permit “prior restraint”, i.e. various forms and levels of censorship?
  • Why are journalists in need of special legal safeguards through “shield laws”, if freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed and protected, and why do not all states have such laws?
  • Have journalists or news organizations ever compromised their professional code of ethics by fabricating news, in order to draw attention to themselves?

Performance of Understanding, Rationale, and Time Line

It is the objective of this unit of study to make all students, particularly prospective journalists, aware and appreciative of the vital role and function of free, unencumbered, unfettered and uncensored media in a free, open and democratic society. Students will be made sensitive to the fact that a free press has both its idealistic champions and defenders, as well as its hardened critics, cynics, detractors and opponents.

Students will consider the great possibilities that come with its proper use, and the fatal flaws that might come from those tempted to put it to totally improper use, i.e. the callous and potentially criminal factions within society, those who would abuse a free media for selfish gain. Students will be given the opportunity to reflect about and react to the juxtaposition of these opposing points of view, in order to understand the adversarial, confrontational, and potentially destructive nature of this relationship. They will explore the role of the media from various perspectives: the free media as an unselfish and loyal public servant, and the media’s self-interest that arises out of the need to survive in a competitive market economy with national implications and global aspirations.

Students will analyze the very complex nature of news in general, and then will compile specific arguments defending the continued need for a free press, as well as critical points that speak of its excesses. Total time needed: five school days (minimum).

Activity 1 (2 days minimum)

  • 1. Introduction and overview of unit objectives. Students will be given the appropriate information in handouts, stating all pertinent instructions and expectations.
  • Viewing of the video: “Switching Channels”. This will be done in two successive viewing sessions of approximately 54 minutes each. Total viewing time is 108 minutes.
  • Students will record and summarize the unfolding comedic/dramatic action. A post-viewing feedback session will allow for a question and answer period.
  • Students will also be able to reflect on the above two sets of unit questions. They will be asked to compile their findings in the form of daily entries in a unit journal. This is not optional, it is part of the unit expectations.

Activity 2 (day three of five)

  • Students will be given the opportunity to meet in groups to compare notes on the video presentation and their personal responses to the list of questions.
  • Students will share their individual and group findings with the class as a whole, in order to ascertain a group consensus on the most critical questions.
  • For extra credit, students will also be encouraged to make personal arrangements with local reporters for personal interviews and job shadowing opportunities. They will be asked to share the results of their contacts with the class. Students should also keep a photo journal of these contacts or attempt to make a video of their experiences.

Activity 3 (day four of five)

Students will be given a chance to meet with three journalists from the local print and electronic media, both TV and radio.The panel of invited guests will share their professional knowledge and experiences with the class. They will be asked to render counsel and advice to all prospective journalists, and to encourage the rest to become consistent and critical consumers of media products. Students will be prompted to ask appropriate questions, in order to generate a positive dialogue and a fruitful exchange of view-points.

Activity 4 (day five of five)

On this final and concluding day of this unit, students will be given the opportunity to choose between an objective test, a reflective essay, and a final discussion about the preceding four days. Students will be given the opportunity to offer critical observations to help make this unit of study an even more rewarding experience for future classes.

Unit Assessment

  • Students will submit their journals for a portion of the credit (objective criteria).
  • Students will also be assessed on the basis of their daily participation and inter-action (subjective and objective criteria).
  • Students will be given a final evaluation that will reflect an authentic assessment of their overall performance, both written and oral.

Resources

  • Copies of unit objectives and expectations.
  • Video: “Switching Channels”, 1987 Tri Star Pictures, Inc. (See preceding content description).
  • A three-person panel of representatives from local print and electronic media sources with national network connections.
  • Supplemental readings from newspapers and book sources (see bibliography), including Viewpoint articles, such as: “Writer wants Americans to reaffirm positive qualities”, by Robert Z. Apostol, Kalamazoo Gazette, November 3, 1999, Section C, page 3

Bibliography

  • Mott, George Fox, Editor, et al, "New Survey of Journalism," Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1958
  • Barrett, Edward W., Ph.D., Journalists in Action, Channel Press, Manhassett, New York, 1963. (KPL Call# 070 B274)
  • Goldstein, Tom, The News At Any Cost How Journalists Compromise Their Ethics to Shane the News, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1985. (KPL Call# 070 6624)
  • Bates, Stephen, If No News, Send Rumors, Anecdotes of American Journalism, Henry Holt and Co., New York, 1989. (KPL Call#070 B329)
  • Brill Steven “Curiosity vs. Privacy," Brill’s Content magazine, Brill Media Ventures, L.P., October 1999, pp.98-109 & 127-129.

Addendum

The Canons of Journalism

The Canons of Journalism contain the following topics: Responsibility, Freedom of the Press, Independence, Sincerity, Truthfulness, Accuracy, Impartiality, Fair Play, Decency From: Casper S. Yost, The Principles of Journalism, D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1924, pp. 161-164, as in New Survey of Journalism, ibid., p.17

[Yost was the founding president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The Canons of Journalism were updated into ASNE’s Statement of Principles in 1975. A copy of those is here: http://www.asne.org/kiosk/archive/principl.htm]

[ASNE maintains a collection of individual news organizations’ codes of ethics. Find them here: http://www.asne.org/ideas/codes/codes.htm

“News Arithmetic”

1 ordinary man + 1 ordinary life = 0

1 ordinary man + 1 extraordinary adventure = News

1 ordinary husband + 1 ordinary wife = 0

1 husband + 3 wives = News

1 bank cashier + 1 wife + 7 children = 0

1 bank cashier – $10,000 = News

1 chorus girl + 1 bank president — $100,000 = News

1 man + 1 auto + 1 gun + 1 quart = News

1 man + 1 wife – 1 row + 1 lawsuit = News

1 man + 1 achievement = News

1 woman + 1 adventure or achievement = News

1 ordinary man + 1 ordinary life of 79 years = 0

1 ordinary man + 1 ordinary life of 100 years = News

etc ….

By George C Bastian From: G. C. Bastian and Leland D. Case, Editing the Day’s News, p. 19, 1932, as quoted in: New Survey of Journalism. ibid., p. 57

What is newsworthy? What is or becomes news? Instructions to Correspondents by Marion Daily Republican (Illinois):

Has Anyone…

  • Died?
  • Eloped?
  • Married?
  • Divorced?
  • Left town?
  • Embezzled?
  • Had a fire?
  • Had a baby?
  • Broken a leg?
  • Had a party?
  • Sold a farm?
  • Had twins or rheumatism?
  • Struck it rich?
  • Been arrested?
  • Come to town?
  • Bought a farm?
  • Stolen a cow or the neighbor’s wife?
  • Fallen from an airplane?
  • Bought an automobile?
  • Committed suicide?
  • Run away with a handsomer man?

… that’s news!

Phone us at Marion No. 271

New Survey of Journalism, ibid., p. 60

What Makes News?

  • Tales of adventure
  • Prophesies of progress
  • Lure of the unknown and mysteries
  • The urge for riches
  • The wish for change
  • The appeal of philosophies and isms
  • The fear of death
  • The mystery of the past
  • The strife of machines and man
  • Love for the home
  • Adornment of the person
  • Preparation for war

    New Survey of Journalism, ibid., Ch XIX, pp. “The March of Science as News”, by Maynard W. Brown and Gerald G. Gross, pp. 156-166.

“The Progress of Error”, by William Cowper, 1782

How shall I speak to thee, or thy

Pow’r address,

Thou God of our idolatry,

The Press?

By thee, religion, liberty, and laws

Exert their influence, and advance their cause;

By thee, worse plagues than

Pharaoh’s land befell

Defused, make earth the vertitude of hell;

Thou fountain, at which drink

The good and wise,

Thou ever-bubbling spring

Of endless lies;

Like Eden’s dread probationary tree,

Knowledge of good and evil

Is from thee.

Goldstein, Tom, "The News At Any Cost. How Journalists Compromise Their Ethics to Shape the News," Simon and Schuster, New York, 1985, p.9.

Gerhard Albert Fuerst’s lesson plan, “Extra, Extra!… Read All About It!” “News Break! “… “A Special Report!” was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 1999, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 18.



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