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Evaluating News Coverage: September 11

Ronni Kent of the New Visions: Publication Communications program.

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

Title: Evaluating News Coverage: September 11

Description of Target Population:

This is a focused lesson that can be used with 11th or 12th grade students in honors English and/or journalism classes. (Students should already be familiar with traditional news values/ balance and their role on the front page of the daily newspaper.)

Generative Topics:

  • 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
  • "Balance" in news coverage

Generative Objects:

  • Copies of local daily newspaper, New York Post, The New York Times, San Francisco Examiner, small daily, out-of-state regional newspaper from Sept. 12 clipped across white board at front of room.
  • Also several examples of the "special editions" published on Sept. 11.

Understanding Goals:

  • Essential or guiding questions:
    • How were the basic principles usually employed in determining placement, size, and appearance of certain stories on the front page and other sections of the newspaper utilized on this day?
    • How are the missions of different newspapers demonstrated by their decisions about headlines, cuts, etc., on their front pages?
    • How did the newspapers accomplish their mission on Sept. 12?
    • How did these decisions impact the "bottom line" for newspapers?
  • Critical engagement questions:
    • How did different editors choose what kind of coverage of the events belonged on the front page?
    • If news values are universally accepted, why would different newspapers have different ideas about what types of coverage belonged on the front page?
    • How did economic decisions affect the content, output of various newspapers on Sept. 12?

Overview & Rationale:

Activity 1:

  • Discuss boarded newspapers.
  • Discuss the look & layout, demographics of each paper and identify key differences between number and type of stories in a paper like the Post vs. The New York Times and evaluate the reasons for this.
  • Discuss and evaluate out of town regional newspaper chosen and compare its front page stories with that of local regional daily. Discuss headline choice made by Examiner, others and how this relates to "traditional news values" and journalist code, etc.

Activity 2:

  • Hand out sheet with "news values" and discuss each as they relate to 9/11

Activity 3:

  • Pass out copies of current day’s local newspaper. Students will (via groups by section) count the number of stories in each section as well as the number of ads. They will evaluate the ratio of news content vs. advertising.
  • Discuss advertising as percentage of revenue for newspapers (including where subscriptions, single copy revenues fall in the mix). .

Activity 4:

  • Pass out newspapers and ask students to identify ads in Sept. 12 newspapers (there won’t be any to speak of).
  • Discuss the economic impact of such an occurrence on the newspaper.

A further review of several weeks’ worth of newspapers following the Sept. 11 event and the TYPES of advertising found overwhelmingly in their pages (non promotional, other) is an excellent source for an extended lesson on this topic (especially for marketing, economics, communications classes, and the like). Discussion could include evaluating how and why this apparent trend transpired, the economic impact to businesses, and the ethics and/or appropriateness and timeliness of advertising and generally doing business in the wake of Sept. 11.

Assessment:

  • What would you do? Students will write a substantive essay evaluating the choices made by several newspapers (one local, one regional, and one national) in reporting Sept. 11 and analyze whether and how they accomplished their "mission" as a newspaper, including a discussion of the individual issues facing each newspaper. In preparing their essays, students will also need to research at least one week of post-Sept. 11 reporting for each of the newspapers Selected, identifying the news/advertising ratio for each during the period as well. Students will use class discussions as a springboard for developing their essays, which will be evaluated for content as well as ELA standards.

Resources recommended:

  • Local daily newspaper, regional out of state newspaper, The New York Times, New York Post, others
  • “The Complete Newspaper Resource Book,” Jane Lamb, J. Weston Walch (publisher)
  • “News Values,” Jack Fuller
  • “Newspaper Designer’s Handbook,” 4th Edition
  • “Journalism Today,” Ferguson, Patten, Wilson, Fifth Edition
  • “The Virtuous Journalist,” Steven Klaidman, Tom Beauchamp, Oxford University Press
  • “The Elements of Style,” Strunk & White, 4’h edition, Allyn & Bacon (publishers)


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