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Media’s Impact: In what ways and how fully do the media shape public opinion, debate, and policy?

Annemarie Conway at Charlevoix High School in Charlevoix, Mich.

Annemarie Conway
Charlevoix High School
Charlevoix, Mich.

Title: Media’s Impact: In what ways and how fully do the media shape public opinion, debate, and policy?

Long-term objectives:

  • Students will understand the pros and cons associated with different forms of media.
  • Students will identify who owns different news and media industries and explore the impact that ownership has on the output.
  • Students will examine how media creates our reality and analyze its impact on the way Americans view politics, race, gender, and public policy.

Short-term objectives:

  • Students will analyze their own selection of media venues and their content.
  • Students will determine how accurate the media content is compared to other media or from their experiences.
  • Students will examine the origins of their own biases and opinions.


  • Gather a variety of media sources (4-5) to show to the class.
  • Make copies of “The Big Ten” handout.


Session One:

  • Brainstorm on the board all the various mediums of media in society. Discuss with the class which forms of media students interact with the most, what is the purpose of each type of media, and what is each media’s typical audience.
  • Introduce the media log assignment. Students are to keep a media log for one week of every form of media with which they interact. This includes radio, TV, movies, CDs, newspapers, internet sites, magazines, 8-trac tapes, books, billboards, etc.
  • Go over a sample to demonstrate the expectations (included at end). Ask students to write down the following information, if available, in their log: the title, authors, content or main point, and how men, women, blacks, whites, or political issues are described in the content. Caution students to be as descriptive as possible with main points because it will help them later on in this assignment. Quotes or excerpts are very helpful. For print or internet newspapers, write down the headlines, authors, and a description of the pictures. Look at what stories make the front page. Have students bring samples to class.

Session Two:

  • Begin the class by posing this question: Do you buy into the idea that media creates our reality? Discuss examples from fashion, language, stereotypes, and domestic and foreign policy.
  • Show the following clips from “The Merchants of Cool” program (www.pbs.org):
    • “hunting for cool”
    • “the midriff”
    • “the giant feedback loop”
  • Be sure to get students’ reactions after each clip: what elements of the clip surprised them, etc?
  • Wrap up the session with a comparison of what they felt before watching the clips and after. Ask the following questions:
    • Do they agree with what they just watched?
    • Can they translate what they have watched to other forms of media and its impact?
    • Why do media do this?
  • Remind students to continue keeping their media log.

Session Three:

  • On the board create a chart that lists various media venues that students brainstorm along the left hand side, while along the top of the chart list audience, ownership, bias, content style, pros, and cons.
  • Within each column discuss each medium’s characteristics. While filling out the ownership column distribute to students “The Big Ten” media ownership list. Examine that with students and analyze how ownership can bias or censor content within various media outlets. Compare how various media outlets are owned by the same corporation. Discuss the consequences and examples of this characteristic such as with Clear Channel, etc.

Session Four:

  • Review all points presented over the past week.
  • Allow students to analyze their media log data by answering the following questions. What themes exist within the content? What types of media do they interact with regularly? What message is that medium sending? What stereotypes are present? Who owns the media outlet? Is ownership bias apparent in the content of its message? How varied and balanced are their media choices? How has the media they interact with impacted their view of society, politics, and policy?

Session Five:

  • Generate within the class a discussion of their findings. How many had similar findings. Compare their findings to real experiences. Ask students how media shapes the way they view society and the people within it. Then introduce the assessment piece.


  • Students are to write a 3-5 page paper entitled “A discerning consumer of media”. As students respond to the following questions, they must incorporate at least five specific examples from their media log, “The Merchants of Cool” program, “The Big Ten” handout, our class notes, the media chart, or the class discussions. The questions are:
    • How much influence do media have over society? How can its influence be seen in society today?
    • Why is it important to understand the role media plays in shaping the way we see various social and political institutions in our society? In other words, explain how media impacts public policy?
    • Compare your view of media before we began this assignment to your view now. How has it changed? How will you use media in the future? In other words, how do you plan to be a discerning consumer of media?

Materials needed:

  • Samples of various media types that portray images of men, women, blacks, whites, and political issues. This could be magazine covers, album covers, news articles, advertisements, website printouts, news clips, etc.
  • Clips and samples of various media venues in general from the obvious to the obscure. Again, this could be movies, books, magazines, newspapers, TV programs, radio, internet, CD, etc).
  • The Big Ten” handout from The Nation, January 7-14, 2002. (Another good resource along this vein is Who Owns What from the Columbia Journalism Review.)
  • Frontline’s report “The Merchants of Cool” program from www.pbs.org.
  • Students will bring in their own sources.

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