The Chapter 1 exercises in the textbook fall into two categories. The first two exercises ask students to go to a news organization’s website, identify the facts the reporter includes in the story and then assess how well the story educates the audience. The second set of exercises asks students to go to a news organization’s website, study the coverage of one story and then articulate how the journalists fulfilled their watchdog function. The focus of these exercises is to show students that textbook concepts like “informed populace” and “watchdog” are really practiced in the field. Below are some specific sites you can direct students to if you want to use these exercises for a class activity.
1. Educating the audience (Exercise 1-2 in the textbook can be a corresponding assignment.)
a. This article in the San Jose Mercury News covers the controversy over Facebook’s participation in a research project that asked the company to manipulate users’ news feeds without users’ knowledge. Students can discuss whether the article helps them decide whether Facebook’s behavior was unethical. This is the link to the study itself.
Ask students how useful the story is in educating audience members and how well it fulfills the news media’s duty to inform. What evidence did the journalists determine was worthy enough to include? Which sources did the journalists determine to be credible enough to include? Are there other questions students would like to know the answer to? Or should anything in the story be excluded because it’s not relevant or helpful?
2. Being a good news watchdog (Exercises 1-3 and 1-5 in the textbook can be a corresponding assignment.)
a. Frontline. This story looks at the possible reemergence of, essentially, public school segregation as a result of lawsuits and court decisions. This multimedia package on meth is older, but students find it intriguing. It’s got video, print, graphics, photo slide shows and other features so you can use it to start illustrating what each medium does particularly well.
b. Polk Award. This Bloomberg series won a 2012 Polk Award for its reporting on student loans and abuses in financing for higher education.
Ask students how, and how well, the reporting fulfills the watchdog function. Who are the people in power that the journalists are keeping an eye on? Does the story push powerful people to be accountable? Are there other questions students think the story should answer?
3. Freedom of the press (Exercise W1-1 in Interactive Workbook is a corresponding assignment.)
Ask students to discuss whether they think Congress should be allowed to abridge the freedom of the press via prior restraint. Pull up the famous passage about censorship from Milton’s Areopagitica and help students parse it. Here’s a link to the passage—scroll down to “Quotations,” and it’s the third one.
The scenarios and links below provide some examples for students to discuss their boundaries regarding free speech.
a. Gabby Giffords, a United States congresswoman and a Democrat, was shot in Arizona along with 18 other people, six of whom died. Authorities arrested a 22-year-old local man at the scene. Former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was criticized in the media because of a map she’d previously posted on her website that appeared to aim crosshairs at Democrats she wanted to unseat, including Giffords.
Several news organizations covered the story. Some did not include the map, some included part of the map. The Huffington Post was one news outlet that published the whole map.
Ask students whether a map like this should be included in a news story. What are the pros and cons? Would they support a law banning such maps from being posted or included in a story?
b. Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith received a lot of attention, including an investigation by child protective services, when photos were published of their daughter Willow, who is a minor, on a bed with a shirtless 20-year-old man.
When news outlets covered the story, they often included one or more of the photos. This link to Fox 8 in Cleveland is one example.
Ask students whether photos like this should be included in a news story. What are the pros and cons? Would they support a law banning such photos from being posted or included in a story?
Chapter 1 describes fundamental assumptions about journalists and journalism: Journalists have a public duty to provide information that will help citizens make wise choices about self-governance, and also other issues that affect their lives. It’s a service that journalists take seriously and one that has historical reasons.
Habits 1 and Chapter 1 are closely linked, and they can easily be taught together.