I'm again using media and journalism in my classes this fall. Specifically, we have purchased digital access to The New York Times for every student and will be using articles on a daily basis in our course work. To that end, I wanted to post some ideas about how to use journalism and media in the classroom.
Using journalism in the classroom offers an almost unlimited number of teaching possibilities. Literally, any media platform will work: daily or weekly newspaper; monthly magazines; cable news networks; blogs and tweets; and comedy or satirical news sites. Many of these platforms cross over into different genres of reporting, so The New York Times online offers print, photographic, and video content, as well as blogs and reader commentary, all of which combine together to convey the story. There will often be additional material on the site to enhance or supplement the basic article. For example, an unedited version of an interview might be offered online, which means students might want to compare versions and analyze the differences. In addition, a full gallery of photographs from a story might be available online beyond the one or two that accompany the article.
There are many excellent resources online for using journalism in the classroom. I would also suggest two documentaries focused on The New York Times and journalism. Page One: Inside The New York Times (Magnolia Pictures, 2011) focuses on award-winning journalist David Carr and the Media Department at the paper, detailing how a reporter goes about covering a rapidly changing world; and Bill Cunningham New York (Zeitgeist Films, 2011), profiling the 84 year old NYTimes street photographer who has spent his career photographing fashion on Manhattan’s sidewalks.
Listed below are more specific ways a daily newspaper or article might be used:
2. Analyze the way a specific topic is presented. For instance, how is immigration presented in the paper? Race relations? Third world countries versus First world? How is a story like the Trayvon Martin case covered over time?
3. Students might analyze the way a newspaper can be biased by comparing the NYTimes to another news source. What facts are included or left out of a story that might be emphasized elsewhere? How do different publications sensationalize a story? For instance, how is The National Enquirer’s coverage different from the NYTimes?
4. Journalism is all about the conveyance of facts in a supposedly objective manner. How are the facts arranged in the story? Which facts come first and which are buried in the body of the article?
5. Develop a vocabulary of newspaper terms: headline, byline, beat, editorial, op-ed, feature stories, graphic, lead, libel, slander, masthead, style guide, nutgraph, sources, attribution etc.
6. Discuss with students the ways newspapers (news sites) attract readers. What qualifies as news, and how does the meaning shift depending on the publication? What draws them to a particular story? What makes them tell others about what they’ve read?
7. Have students prepare a presentation on First Amendment issues and freedom of the press. Also, why is a healthy news media necessary to a democracy? When and where has journalism been suppressed? How many journalists have died in recent years while covering a story? Are those deaths heroic? How has the role of the journalist changed over the years? One powerful and moving piece of reportage is posted online by photojournalist Tim Hetherington. The short film is called “Diary,” and is a compilation of clips from his reporting life in a variety of places around the world. Hetherington is responsible, along with Sebastian Junger, for the award-winning film, Restrepo. He was killed by a mortar shell in Libya in 2011.
Diary (2010) from Tim Hetherington on Vimeo.
8. Students should build their vocabulary by looking up unfamiliar words, terms, or phrases. This could be turned into a game where students challenge each other to define or identify words and ideas from their readings.
9. As they read through their articles, ask students what historical value a particular story might have going forward. What stories will still be important six months from now? A year? Five years? Ten years?
10. During the course of the semester, have students develop an article/idea file from their reading. They should collect articles of significance to them, to their chosen fields, their possible careers. They can use this file to find topics to write about not just in this class, but in other classes. This also promotes making connections across the curriculum. Connections are key.
11. Reading journalism can build map and geography skills. For specific regions or countries involved in a particular story, have students compile a background file containing maps, geographic features, census information, literacy rates, health care statistics, etc. Lead them to realize that such information, although not necessarily included in the story, forms the basis for writing in depth about an issue facing that population.
12. In groups, have students present an article to the class using digital resources like YouTube/video clips, photos, music, and art. Encourage them to use non-journalism techniques to convey the story.
13. Have students research the way a story has been presented throughout history. For instance, many newspapers referred to Japanese people during WWII as “Japs.” How has terminology and public perspective changed over the decades? Are we more enlightened now about issues such as racial sensitivity?
14. All journalists write from the formula of the “5Ws and the H”: who, what, when, where, why and how. Have students identify where the 5Ws and H are conveyed in the article. Does the writer of a particular article fail to identify one of those?
15. Have students look up proofreading and editing marks and then practice using the symbols on a piece of writing. There are hundreds of sites listing the common marks, but Merriam-Webster has comprehensive guide.
16. Discuss with students the different sources used to write an article, such as interviews on the record, off the record, background, deep background, unattributed, attributed, statistics, public record, Freedom of Information Act, etc. Have students look for sources for a particular topic and evaluate the reliability of those sources. For instance, in a civil war in a particular Middle Eastern country, who must a reporter interview to create a clear, objective perspective on the conflict? Examine a particular article and make a list of the journalist’s sources.
17. Have students compose a letter to the editor—email or hard copy—and submit it to the opinion page. The NYTimes allows both digital and snail mail, and the guidelines for letters are here. Students might also post a comment online in response to a particular story at the end of the article. This fosters engagement with what they read and demonstrates the democratic “town square” aspect of journalism. More ambitious students might want to try submitting an op-ed piece to the paper. For the NYTimes, the guidelines are here. Students can also submit video responses; those guidelines are here.
18. Have students analyze the different sections in a newspaper, and explain what each of these sections covers. If a school wanted to start a campus newspaper or news site, what sections should it include? Why would it be important to have a campus newspaper?
19. On the artistic writing front, have students take words and phrases from the article and create a “found poem.” A good guide to doing this can be found—pun intended—here.