Getting the Straight Scoop
Portsmouth High School
Title: Getting the Straight Scoop
Description of School and Students
Portsmouth High School is a suburban school in Rhode Island. It is one of three high schools on Aquidneck Island with an enrollment of 825. The student body is not ethnically diverse – the majority of students are Caucasian. The average class size is 20 - 25. Portsmouth is on a block schedule (A/B), so that four classes on Day A are taught – each being 83 minutes – and four different classes are taught on the following day, Day B. This unit will be taught to a beginning level journalism class that includes 9th through 12th grade students. This could also be presented in a 10th grade middle level English class.
Rhode Island State Standards
(Performance Standards by New Standards are used by Portsmouth and many other high schools in Rhode Island)
- E1a, E1b, E1c – Reading
- E2a, E2b, E2e, E2f – Writing
- E3c, E3d – Speaking, Listening, and Viewing
- E4 – Conventions, Grammar, and Usage of the English Language
- E6 – Public Documents
Presentation of hard news – objective or biased
Various articles from a wide range of newspapers, and video clips from various major television news programs – New York Times, Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Time, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, and online publications.
- Essential Questions
- What is hard news? What is soft news?
- What is the difference between hard news and soft news?
- Is hard news reported objectively?
- Should we value one news medium as the source of truth?
- How should we respond to a news story?
- Critical Engagement Questions
- What is the difference between hard news and soft news?
- What is “balance” in regards to reporting the news?
- Do reporters sometimes present more than facts in a hard news story?
- How can a reader distinguish between fact and opinion?
- Is a news story presented the same way in different newspapers?
Performances of Understanding, Rationale and Timeline
Many students get news from one or two sources and often accept it as objective truth. They often see the printed word as completely factual. This unit has students read and listen to the news with a critical eye. They learn how to sift through a story and separate information that is factual from that which is opinion.
Students will read several versions of the same news stories as presented by different newspapers, and also compare stories as presented in the print media with stories presented on national news broadcasts. They will determine differences in the amount of information and the impact it can have for the reader.
- Ask the class, “ what is news?” List the answers on the board. Then ask if some news stories are more important than others and why?
- Looking at the list on the board, which kinds of news would be more important? Why? Teacher can asterisk the “important” kinds of news.
- Form groups of no more than four and give newspapers to each group. Give them 10 minutes to find two stories that are “important” and two that are not “important” but are “interesting.”
- Have each group summarize their four stories and explain why they are important or interesting/entertaining. While they are presenting, another student writes a corresponding tag to identify the story on the board under headings of Important or Interesting/Entertaining. These presentations will probably take the remainder of the class, but five minutes should be saved to show the overall difference in the two lists.
- At this point a definition is given of hard news and soft news.
- After reviewing the definitions of hard and soft news, ask students if they trust a hard news story to reveal more factual truth. Then ask them if hard news stories ever have opinions included.
- Some discussion should ensue that includes the difference between fact and opinion in print news. Discussion might include phrases that show opinion that would be seen in a newspaper.
- Have students form the same groups as in Activity 1, and give them three different newspapers from the same day. They must find one hard news story that is common to all of the newspapers and then do the following:
- List the major facts they find from each paper for that story (5Ws and H). Have them separate any unique facts they find in the various articles. Have each group assign a different person within the group for each task as the “information gatherer” to record the conclusions from the three versions of the story.
- List any opinions found in each article (new “info gatherer”).
- Determine which newspaper gave the most information and which gave the fullest picture of the story (new “info gatherer”).
- Prepare to present findings (30 minutes for all the tasks)
- Have groups present to the whole class and discuss the value of having more information when forming a point of view. Also lead discussion about the importance of discerning the difference between fact and opinion when understanding a news story. Have groups turn in notes from info gatherers after presentations for grade.
- Begin the activity with discussion related to two questions. Ask how students form an opinion about an issue that is important to them. Ask whether or not it is valuable to read articles that clearly show an opinion about a hard news story.
- After that discussion, have students read one hard news article about a specific issue that has impact on their lives. Then have them read another article that responds to the issue presented in the hard news article.
- Ask them to show whether they agree or disagree with the response in a one-page paper (class should complete this together in computer lab). They should include reasons for agreeing or disagreeing and questions about the issue that were not answered clearly in the articles.
- Students will voluntarily read their responses to the class and time for discussion will be included.
- Present the notion of “balance” in news reporting.
- Have students read an article you provide that shows balance and one that does not show balance.
- Discuss specific differences that show balance vs. imbalance. Ask students why it is important for the reader to recognize how a news story is presented in terms of balance.
- For homework, have students watch the evening news and compare the presentation of one hard news story on the broadcast with the story as presented in a major national newspaper (an online version of a major newspaper is acceptable).
- Take notes on the differences and similarities.
- Remind students to look for balance and to take notes on the information learned from each.
- Discuss findings during the next class.
- In addition to being assessed through the individual activities, at the end of the unit, students will find a hard news article for homework about an issue that interests them and an opinion article that addresses that issue.
- They should write a persuasive essay that shows they understand the issue and that convinces the reader that their opinion of the issue is logical. The essay should include facts that describe the issue as well as all views of the issue. Students must include the articles with the essay.
- Further, they will write a journal entry addressing one of the essential questions from this unit. They will be written on the board and students can choose one question to address. Journal entries are timed and graded by length and serious investment.
- Various articles about Lindsey Earls’ (Tecumseh, Okla.) challenge to the Supreme Court ruling on drug testing of students involved with extracurricular activities. 2001-02.
- Bok, Sissela, “The Decline and Fall of Journalistic Standards” in The Boston Globe, April 13, 1998.
- Kalb, Marvin, “The Rise of the ‘New News’: A Case Study of Two Root Causes of Modern Scandal Coverage”, Discussion Paper D-34. October 1998.
- Patterson, Thomas, “Doing Well and Doing Good: How Soft News and Critical Journalism are Shrinking the News Audience and Weakening Democracy – And what News Outlets can do About It,” (Cambridge, The Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy) December 2000.
This lesson plan was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 2002, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University,Cambridge, Mass.