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Desiree Garcia
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Introducing diversity into media coverage




Introducing diversity into media coverage

Desiree Garcia at Alonso High School in Tampa, Fla.

Desiree H. Garcia
Alonso High School
Tampa, Florida

Unit title: Diversity in media coverage

Overview and Rationale

The purpose of this set of assignments revolves around the theme of diversity and its role in comprehensive news reporting. Students will identify any bias or inequity in community reporting that may exist in mainstream media and to consider if this is an issue for the students’ own school newspaper.

Students will analyze the local newspapers and television stations and their websites to determine the percentage of coverage given to people of color who live in their viewing and reading area. They also will analyze the types of coverage: crime and courts, sports, features, biographies, and the manner in which people of color are depicted in stories on political and social issues, such as immigration, homelessness and corporate crime. They will compare the coverage given by mainstream media to those targeting various minority groups in the community. They will look at an example of diversity reporting and the writer of the piece. They will produce a newspaper budget and an article for the newspaper that reflects the diversity of their school. Editors from local minority papers will be invited to speak to students about this subject, specifically addressing the essential questions listed below.

Goals for Understanding

Realize the need for diversity in news coverage of the community. In the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, the need to “tell the story of diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly,” examine one’s own cultural values and avoid imposing those on others, avoid stereotyping, and give a voice to the voiceless are some of the tenets in which the need for diversity in reporting is covered. This value also is reflected in the student newspaper’s mission statement, which mirrors the school’s stated values.

Essential Questions

  • Why is it important to a healthy democracy to have diverse reporting?
  • Why is diversity in reporting a core value of professional journalists?

Critical Engagement Questions

  • What are some perspectives missing from our community’s media?
  • Why is it difficult for the media to cover all aspects of its community?
  • What are some perspectives missing from our own student newspaper?
  • If we were more fully diverse, how would this improve our paper, our school and community?
  • What actions could we take as a class to create a more diverse newspaper?

Overview and Timeline

  • Day 1-3, Lesson 1: Explore the meaning of diversity
  • Day 4-5, Lesson 2: Explore the importance of diversity in news coverage
  • Days 6-8, Lesson 3: Determine if local media is providing diverse, unbiased coverage of the community. Some of this work will be done for homework.
  • Days 9-12, Lesson 4: Learn about the pitfalls of reporting on minorities by reading an award-winning diversity story and a bio and interview with the author on how she does her job.
  • Day 13, Lesson 5: Determine if the student newspaper is providing diverse, unbiased coverage of the school community.
  • Assessment: Create a budget that reflects the diversity of the school. Choose an article to write that will reflect diversity in some form. Each student writes a story for the student newspaper that reflects the diversity of the student body in some form, whether it includes different perspectives through sources or is a story about a diversity issue.

Activities

Lesson 1 (3 50-minute classes)
Materials: journals, pens, index cards, tape, access to the Internet.

Day 1

Activity 1

Conduct a quick write on the word “diversity.” Students write nonstop about anything that comes to their minds when they think of this word for two minutes. Allow students about five to 10 minutes to read aloud their writings.

Activity 2

Have people find their “groups,” using the inner-outer circle strategy. Create a space big enough in the class for everyone to get in a big circle. At the end of the game, everyone will end up in one of the five groups.

  • Create five separate sets of index cards with labels — not pertaining to race or ethnicity — but about unusual hobbies or activities that anyone might be involved in. For example, the cards could be labeled: I am an organic vegetable gardener. I am a mountain climber. I belong to a science fiction book club. I am a volunteer with Meals on Wheels. I belong to a square dance club. Make enough cards to match the number of students in the class.
  • Select 10 people to be group leaders and hand them the cards. There will be two group leaders per group. Instruct them not to show or discuss their cards with anyone in the class except their partners. The goal is for the other students to figure out which group they belong in.
  • Have everyone else form a circle facing outward.
  • Place the group leaders strategically spaced outside the circle, facing the people forming the circle.
  • The teacher stands in the middle of the group and tapes each person’s card onto their back. Group leaders could help. (If there are more than 10 people in the circle, place the same label on some people standing next to each other and let them work as partners. This is for game management when everyone starts moving; so no one is left doing nothing.) Instruct students not to look at anyone else’s card. Only the group leaders may look at others’ backs. (To save circle time an alternative idea to taping labels would be to create hanging tags that the teacher or the group leaders could easily put around the circle students’ necks with the labels hanging down their backs.)
  • The group leaders will not move. As each person in the circle comes to them, the group leader looks at that person’s label. Their job will be to give each person or people they speak to a hint about what group the person might belong to without being too obvious or telling the other person what group they are leading. For example, if the group leader is the gardener and the other student is the square dancer, the leader might say: “You don’t belong in my group because your outfit would get too dirty.” Or they might say: “We don’t like the same kind of music because you listen to old country music.” Or if the student does have “gardener” taped onto his back, the gardening leader might say: “You belong in my group because we both love to play in dirt.” The inner circle person gets one guess about the name of the group and then he must move to his right to the next group.
  • The teacher stays in the middle of the circle to monitor and assist. To demonstrate how to give a hint, the teacher may want to demonstrate with a student using two different groups that are not part of the exercise. The idea of this team-building exercise is to get everyone talking, working together, and bonding in group

Day 2 (or continue with Day 1 if there is time)

Activity 2 continued

  • Have students sit quietly in their groups and journal individually about their experience trying to find their group and how others treated them. Did they encounter bias, stereotyping, or accidental rude comments about who they were? Did they feel like outcasts?
  • Students brainstorm some story ideas together about their group for the newspaper. Teacher circulates among the groups and encourages them to look for stories that are not obvious or clich├ęd. As they conclude, ask the class to consider if other students will really want to read the stories they came up with. Just how interesting were their ideas?
  • Now, allow them time to research their topics online to learn more about their hobbies and to find other story ideas they did not think about. Ask them to pretend this is their passion. This is what they and their family and friends do whenever they are not working or in school. Tell them not to discuss their research or story ideas with students outside their group. They probably wouldn’t be interested anyway.

Day 3

Activity 2 continued

  • Create a big circle of desks. Everyone sits next to his or her group members in the circle.
  • Tell the students they will be practicing interviewing each other. They will be assigned to write a story about the group the interviewee belongs to. Randomly hand out cards with the students’ names on them. Whoever’s card a person has, that is the person they will interview. Tell students to make sure they don’t have the card of someone in their group.
  • With the rest of the class silent and listening, a reporter asks a question and takes notes. If he or she needs help, someone from his or her own group can jump in if asked to do so. Go around the room until everyone has asked a question of another student.
  • Have everyone journal about what they saw and felt during this process. What types of questions were asked: Were they knowledgeable, sensitive, probing, shallow, off the mark, or silly? How did they feel about the questions that were asked of them?
  • Class discussion. Bring out the need to get background on a story before interviewing people. Why do writers inadvertently insert bias? (ignorance and lack of experience with the subject, lack of research, not interviewing enough and varied types of people, not self-analyzing for bias.) Discuss how important it is not to stereotype others or force our cultural values and bias on others. Just because our family and friends love square dancing and think reading science fiction is a waste of time, doesn’t mean everyone thinks like us.

Lesson 2 (2 50-minute class periods)

Materials needed: Class set of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, student newspaper’s mission statement, sticky note pads in five different colors or five different colored pens, markers, a large sheet of chart paper and flip chart sheets of paper.

Day 4

  • Place students in different groups of four. Give each group a sheet of flip chart paper and markers. Have them come up with a budget for the next newspaper and prioritize the stories in order of importance. In addition to considering what is really happening at school, tell them to pretend some segments of the student population belongs to the five groups they had formed in class in the last several days. Tell them there is room for only 4 news stories, 3 feature stories and 3 sports stories. There may be room for 5-7 briefs somewhere in the paper. Have each group write their lists on large chart paper and post.
  • Ask each group to explain their news judgment.
  • Read the Code of Ethics aloud with students. Have them find two words they don’t know and write each one on a yellow sticky. After reading the code aloud, give everyone time to look up their definitions and print it on the stickies. Place the stickies on the chart paper, which is titled “Journalists’ Code of Ethics and Diversity” and has been hung on a wall in the classroom. Designate a spot on the chart paper for definitions. Create a web format on the chart paper with each of the five sections labeled and circled with some lines coming out of them like spokes on a wheel. (The sections are: Preamble, Seek Truth and Report it, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, Be Accountable)


Day 5

  • Have a quick discussion about why it would be important to write stories about people of all races and ethnicities in the community.
  • Divide everyone into partners and assign each of the five sections of the code to a set of partners. Each section gets a different colored sticky note. Have like groups sitting near each other or in circles of four so they have the option of working with more than one other person. Since the Seek Truth and Report it Section is so large, perhaps double up on that one.
  • Have student find sections of the code they think pertain to the needs of non-majority members of society. Each separate item students identify should be paraphrased and put on a separate sticky. The sticky note then is taped at the end of one of the lines coming out of the section header on the chart paper that is hanging on the wall in the room.
  • When the group work is complete, have a volunteer for each section go to the chart paper and summarize for the class what his or her group came up with.
  • Leave room for class discussion.

Lesson 3 (3 50-minute class)

Materials: scissors, glue sticks, flip chart paper, Five sets of six or seven local daily newspapers , the local newspaper covering the black community; samples of the six free Spanish-language papers if available; Internet access to major daily newspapers.

Days 6-7

Activity 1

  • Read the school newspaper’s mission statement aloud. Have students individually identify the different groups of students that make up the student body, not just by race and ethnicity but also by interests and value systems. Discuss as a class the make up of the student body and what makes their school special or different from other high schools.

Activity 2

  • Explain that we will be documenting the inclusion of people of color in news coverage for our area by local television news and publications. For homework, students are to watch the different news stations, Monday through Thursday, and journal about any stories about minorities and any stories that include people of color as sources. For the journal assignment, they are to organize their notes into three categories: news and business, features and sports. In addition, they are to make a list of all the television news programs that target ethnic or racial groups of people. On Friday, they will work in groups to combine their findings into charts on large paper to post in the room for comparison. Explain that with the changes in media due to technology, newspapers now compete with the TV stations via their online papers. Also, competition has expanded outside the region to other papers, as well as individual news hounds who may post blogs and homemade videos or alert competitors.
  • Explain to students they will now do the same thing with the local daily newspaper. Put students in groups of five and give each group flip chart paper. Give each group a different day’s paper. Have students cut out any news or feature stories about minorities or that use a minority source. Have them write a list of sports headlines for stories with minorities. Assign duties: two people cut news and business and features, another student pastes the stories under appropriate labels of the chart paper, another two gather the sports stories and writes those headlines on regular notebook paper; and post that work on the chart paper when completed.
  • Groups analyze the treatment and coverage of minorities and tabulate this under three headings that are listed at the top right corner of their chart paper: Positive, negative, neutral. For each story or source quoted, put a mark under the appropriate column.
  • Students present their findings to the class.

Day 8

Activity 1

  • Ask students who among them plays on a sports team at school or at a community club. Have the people who raise their hands come to the front of the class. Tell them to put their hands over their mouths and instruct them they may not speak until told otherwise. Instruct the class to turn to a partner next to them and talk about their plans for this weekend or the best movie they have seen recently. They are to talk for at least three minutes. At the end of the exercise, have the sports people sit down. Have a short class discussion about how this exercise relates to the analysis of the media we are doing. Ask the sports people how they felt being excluded and unable to speak.

Activity 2

  • Divide people in different groups and give each person a copy of the local daily newspaper. Give each group a chart paper. Assign each group a different set of pages. Have them cut out stories that include a minority source or that focus on a minority issue and past those on their chart paper. Also, a group of students could be assigned to do a compare and contrast of ads between two daily newspapers. They could cut out any ads with art of minorities or directed to minorities.
  • Groups analyze the treatment and coverage of minorities and tabulate this under three headings that are listed at the top right corner of their chart paper: Positive, negative, neutral. For each story or source quoted, put a mark under the appropriate column.
  • Post these on the walls with the charts created earlier for the local newspaper. Put these questions on the overhead:
    • What are some perspectives missing from our community’s media?
    • Why is it difficult for the media to cover all aspects of its community?
  • Have groups discuss these questions and then journal individually about both of them.

Lesson 4 (4 50-minute class periods)

Materials:

Day 9-10

Activity 1

Have students read pp. 155-157 about Phuong Ly and create a timeline of her personal and professional life, focusing on the highlights of her life that moved her to the point she is at now in her career.

Activity 2

Read aloud and discuss her story “A Wrenching Choice,” pp. 158-168 of 2006-07 edition of The Best Newspaper Writing (See References.). Ask students to discuss in groups the following and journal their response to the following questions:

  • How doe Ly organize her story?
  • How does she handle the background on the family’s culture in the story?
  • How are the children and parents different from one another in the story?
  • Could this story be relevant to our school and our students.

Lesson 4 (4 50-minute class periods)

Materials: News budgets created earlier during Day 4. Copies of the latest student newspaper.

Day 13

Activity 1

Students may begin working on this on Day 12 alone after completing the previous assignment. Tell students the purpose of this assignment is to determine if the student newspaper is providing diverse, unbiased coverage of the school community. They analyze the paper by creating two columns labeled “Weaknesses” and “Strengths.” Under each column they write observations, suggestions and/or headlines of stories.

Activity 2

Revise the budget done on Day 4. Delete the ideas of the make-believe groups and create a budget that reflects the diversity of the school.

Activity 3

Each student chooses an article from one of their story ideas to write. The assignment may not be a sports story. They will be graded on not only the usual criteria of good newspaper writing but also how well they have reflected the diversity of the school in either the story topic or the sources of information they include in the story.

References:

  • The Poynter Institue for Media Studies “Best Newspaper Writing: 2006-2008 Edition.” Edited by Aly Colon. ISBN-10: 0872892964.
  • The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics


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