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News values and the front page

Ronni Kent of the New Visions: Publication Communications program.

Ronni Kent
instructor
New Visions: Public Communications
Times Union
Albany, N.Y.

Title: News Values and The Front Page

Description of School and Students

This lesson will be used for 12th grade students in the New Visions: Public Communications class (see biography for more explanation)

Generative Topics:

  • Identification and evaluation of traditional news values (timeliness, proximity, consequence, prominence, conflict, drama, oddity, emotions, etc.)
  • The role of news values in the composition of the front page of the daily newspaper
  • Achieving balanced coverage

Generative Objects:

Copies of local daily newspaper, New York Post, The New York Times, and regional newspaper from out of state clipped across white board at front of room

Understanding Goals:

  • Essential or guiding questions:
    • What are the basic principles employed in determining placement, appearance of certain stories on the front page, other sections of the newspaper?
    • How do the stories on the front page of the paper demonstrate news values?
    • How is balance achieved so that the front page appeals to all readers?
    • How is the mission of different newspapers demonstrated by their decisions about the content of their front page?
  • Critical engagement questions:
    • What makes news?
    • What factors determine interest, relevance to an audience?
    • How does a newspaper decide what stories to cover?
    • How are stories for the front page chosen?
    • If news values are universally accepted, why do different newspapers appear to have completely different ideas about what types of stories belong on the front page?

Overview & Rationale:

This focused lesson is designed to help students understand basic news values, and the criteria for judging news used by various newspapers. Within the context of the lesson is also an understanding of the newspaper’s role as a business, its mission, audience, and how newspaper styles and choice of stories reflect this, and a critical examination of the differences in style and news judgment between print and electronic media. The lesson/unit is designed for a class period of approximately 110 minutes (2-3 traditional class periods). Additional lessons would add a broadcast component in which students would be asked to view nightly news broadcasts and evaluate differences in approach and content.

Activities

Activity 1: (10 min)

  • Discuss boarded newspapers. Class evaluates which stories are most prominent in each, and why that might be. Board answers (should roughly correlate to traditional news values).

Activity 2: (30 min)

  • Hand out sheet identifying “News Values” and discuss each as they relate to the stories in the boarded newspapers and their differences in approach.

Activity 3: (15 min)

  • Discuss the look and layout, demographics of each paper (local, Post, Times) and why each might cover different stories and what it is trying to accomplish with its front page. Identify key differences between number, type, look and layout of stories in a paper like the Post vs. the Times and evaluate the reasons for this.

Activity 4: (5 min)

  • Evaluate out-of-town regional newspaper chosen and compare its front-page choices with that of local daily.

Activity 5: (10 min)

  • Hand out pre-Selected (by teacher) list of possible stories to students and have them determine which newspaper would most likely run which story, and where they would likely be placed (front page or not? Why?)

Activity 6: (15 min)

  • Divide class into small groups. Each group receives a list of three possible story pitches for the next day’s paper. Each group must choose only one of the three for the front page. Evaluate each group’s decision.

Activity 7: (25 min)

  • Each group is now given an envelope containing all of the articles cut out from at least two sections of a given newspaper. Each group must decide which of these articles would be appropriate for the front page, and why. Each group “lays out” its front page. Groups discuss choices. Teacher shows original copy of newspaper with actual choices made, and discusses any differences/similarities.

Assessment:

  • Each student will be given a list of story choices for the next day’s local paper. Students will choose the appropriate number and type of story for the front page from the list, providing a written rationale (what and why) for their choices that includes identifying the “news value” attached to each. Students will also include their evaluation of the stories they rejected, using the same criteria. Evaluation based on appropriate identification and support for news values and balance, etc., as developed through classroom lesson.

Resources recommended:

  • Local daily and regional out of state newspaper, The New York Times, New York Post, others as relevant
  • Multiple copies of one local newspaper (can be old but must be from same day) cut up as described for student group activity
  • "The Complete Newspaper Resource Book" Jane Lamb, J. Weston Walch, publisher
  • "News Values," Jack Fuller (teacher resource)
  • "Newspaper Designer’s Handbook," 4th Edition
  • "Journalism Today," Ferguson, Patten, Wilson, Fifth Edition


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