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Peter Newman
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Lesson Plans

The News: Let Me Entertain You




The News: Let Me Entertain You

Peter Newman of Nazareth High School in Nazareth, Pa.

Peter H. Newman
Nazareth High School
Nazareth, Pa.

Title of unit: "The News: Let Me Entertain You?"

Description of school and students
This unit is designed to be taught in a 12th-grade vocational level English course in Nazareth, Pa. It is a ninth- through 12-grade high school of about 1,200 students. The unit is part of a project on communication. After graduation most of these students will either be entering the work force, going to a community college, or going into the armed forces.

Generative topic

The nature of today’s TV news.

Generative object

  • An advertisement for a television news show. This could be a video of a "tease" or a print ad; the more sensational the better.

Understanding goals

  1. Essential or Guiding Question
  • Does the need to make a profit force the television news to entertain at the expense of informing?
  1. Critical Engagement Question
    1. How much local and national television is devoted to "soft news?"
    2. Is there a difference between local and national news in the nature of the stories they cover?
    3. How popular have that television "magazine" format shows become?

Performance of understanding, rationale and time line

As media ownership became the province of large corporations, the public service aspect of news was sacrificed to the need for profit. This created a movement among networks to broadcast newscasts that did not just inform, but also entertained. This unit is designed to give students a better perspective on the mix of informative or "hard" news and entertaining or "soft" news. In addition students will see that the popularity of "soft" news has spurred a much greater proliferation of magazine format (for example "60 Minutes") news shows.

  1. Activity one: All members of the class should be given a sheet of paper and be asked to answer the following questions.
    1. In a half-hour local television news report what type of news and topics should be covered? Approximately how much time should be spent on each?
    2. In a half-hour national news report what types of news and topics should be covered? Approximately how much time should be spent on each?
    3. How much should local and national news differ? After students have completed the questions, Select several students to read their answers. Use this as the basis for a class discussion.
      One Period
  2. Activity two: Put the students in groups of about five. Tell the groups that they will be seeing a recent local half-hour news report and that they are to time and categorize each story. Show the tape and then let the groups work to complete their assignment. Collect their notes at the end of the period. One Period
  3. Activity three: Keeping the same groups repeat Activity Two using a recording of a national news broadcast. One Period
  4. Activity four: Reassemble the groups and return their notes. Have the students in each group compare the two broadcasts. Each student in each group should record the group’s results. Give the students about half an hour to accomplish this. At this point separate the groups and assign the homework essay. One Period
  5. Assessment: Each student in the class is to write an essay in which he or she comments on an observation reached through the group work. The essay can be anything from a general comparison of the two programs to a very specific analysis of one aspect of the shows. Essays are evaluated on the student’s observations, support for the theory, and rules of good writing.
  6. Acitvity five: As an extra project or assignment have students create news show categories. These could include local news, national news, sports news, entertainment news, and investigative reporting. After students have created these categories (which they may add to later), students should go through TV Guide or a similar listing and put each news show and its length in the appropriate category.
  7. Assessment: As an in class or homework assignment have each student consider the results of his or her research. In an essay or a series of observation paragraphs students must give their conclusions and use the data that they collected for support. The writing will be evaluated on observations, support, and good writing.

Resources

  • A videotape of a local television news broadcast.
  • A videotape of a national television news broadcast.
  • TV Guide or a similar weekly listing

Peter Newman’s lesson plan, "The News: Let Me Entertain You" was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 1998, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 85.



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