REPORTING THE NEWS: Inquiry in a Social Studies or English Class

July 23, 2011

After a brief reading and a sampling of news reports, students consider the role of bias and opinion in the news.

To the Teacher:

Every "news story" is reported from a somewhat different point of view by different newspapers and telecasts. And every story is to some degree an editorial. Meanwhile, countless other potential stories aren't reported at all because reporters, editors, and publishers don't see them as "news." The following reading helps students consider the role of bias and opinion in the news they see, hear and read.

 


Student Reading:

News Stories as Editorials

"News is nothing more or less than what reportersówith the encouragement or sufferance of their editors and publishersósay and write. This definition of news implies that the news, like the law, is a product of a particular man's imagination, his prejudices, his courage, his timidity, his perceptual limitations. This definition implies, too, that news is not something 'out there' to be gathered or collected, as so many newsmen would like us to think. News is made, not collected. 'All the news that's fit to print,' if it means anything at all, means only the publicly asserted biases of the reporters and editors of the New York Timesówhich biasesÖfrequently differ from those of the Chicago Tribune or the New York Daily News or the Columbia Broadcasting System.

"On the day Marilyn Monroe committed suicide, so did a hundred other people, some of whose reasons were undoubtedly as engrossing as, and perhaps more significant than Miss Monroe's. Yet we shall never know about these people or their reasons; the men at the Times or CBSÖsimply took no notice of themÖ."

Charles Weingartner, "The Interpretation of News" in Neil Postman, Language and Reality

 

For discussion

1. Weingartner suggests that all news reporting is biased. What do you think he means by "biased"? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

2. Explain: "News is made, not collected."

3. What point does Weingartner want to make in bringing up Marilyn Monroe's suicide?

 


Exercise:

Four news stories on the G-8 meetings

(July 9, 2005)

In the headlines and leads of the following news stories, the New York Times, New York Post, The Independent, and Inter Press Service are all reporting on the same event: the conclusion of meetings among the top eight industrial nations known as the G-8. Examine them carefully. Then respond in writing to the questions that follow.

 

1. New York Times

8 LEADERS HAIL STEPS ON AFRICA AND WARMING
by Richard W. Stevenson

Striking tones of optimism and defiance a day after the attacks in London, President Bush and the leaders of seven other big industrial nations concluded a summit meeting here on Friday saying they had made substantial progress in addressing African poverty, global warming and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

2. New York Post

W. HAPPY WITH G-8 AID PLAN
Post Wire Services

President Bush returned home from the G-8 summit yesterday, pleased with an African aid plan the White House called "historic."

3. The Independent (UK)

G8 OFFERS ALTERNATIVE TO TERROR, SAYS BLAIR
by Colin Brown and Ben Russell

Tony Blair condemned attacks on London as "savagery designed to cover all conventional politics in darkness" as he insisted that the G8 leaders offered a real alternative to the forces of terror.

4. Inter Press Service

G-8 SUMMIT: NO SOLUTIONS HERE TO 'CLIMATE CHAOS'-ACTIVISTS
By Stefania Milan

Around 500 activists in Glasgow said goodbye to the G8 Summit with a street party against climate change Friday, rejecting "any market-led techno-fixes to the climate crisis by an unelected global elite."

Questions:

Which newspaper headline and lead:

  • emphasizes the mood of the U.S. president following the G-8 meetings?
  • condemns the G-8 leaders for failing to deal adequately with global warming?
  • celebrates the progress made by the G-8 leaders on global warming and other issues?
  • focuses on the terror attacks on London?

Which newspapers do NOT report on:

  • the British prime minister's views about the G-8 leaders and terror?
  • the American president's feelings after the G-8 summit
  • dissatisfaction with the G-8 leaders' response to global warming
  • the G-8 leaders' statement about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
     

Writing:

Ask students to write one paragraph discussing Weingartner's statement, "News is made, not collected" in relation to the four news stories on the G-8 summit.

Observation:

Ask students to watch several TV news broadcasts on a particular day and at a particular time. Have them take notes on what is reported and how (both words and images) about the Iraq war. For example, the networks (CBS, ABC, and NBC) and cable channels (the Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC). What similarities and differences do they find? How do they explain them?

 

This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: lmcclure@morningsidecenter.org