The Media and Local Government
Hiram Johnson High School
Subject: The Media and Local Government
Description of School and StudentsThis curriculum unit will be taught to 12th-grade students in an inner-city high school. in Sacramento, Calif. The class size for the required government/civics course is 35 students. Students are ethnically diverse. There is a large segment of ELL students. It will be part of the three-week examination of local and state government.
The Influence of the Media on Local Government
- A recent copy of the local newspaper, The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee
- A videotape of newscast on three major local stations
- A copy of the minutes of the most recent city council meeting
- A copy of the minutes of the most recent meeting of the county board of supervisors.
- Essential or Guiding Questions
- What role do the media play in determining the direction of local government?
- Who decides what direction local government should go? (The media, elected officials or the citizens? Who should decide?)
- Critical Engagement Questions
- How do the media influence local government?
- How are the main local issues determined? Is there a process? Who controls it?
- Do the media create development of issues?
- To what extent is local government dependent on a well-informed populace?
- What part should the media play in developing local government policies?
- Should the media be involved in directing or just covering local government policy?
- Are polls used? Does the media make use of them? Who was their sampling group?
Performances of Understanding, Rationale, and Time Line
In a 3- to 4-week unit on local government, students will examine the effects of the media on local government. Since local government is the closest level of government to the citizens, it should be most responsive to the needs of the electorate. The materials for this unit will include newspaper articles, videos of local newscasts and audiotapes of local radio broadcasts. The activities will help the students to determine the extent of media involvement in the direction of local government. The students will be challenged to determine if citizens need to be well informed on local issues and if the media is reliable in delivering unbiased information. This unit is intended to be flexible to accommodate campaign and election timelines.
Activity IThe teacher will present the topic, The Media and Local Government, to the class. The teacher will then pose the seven critical engagement questions. The students will receive Selected readings from the resource list as homework. At the next class session, the teacher will briefly go over the readings and any questions the students developed. The class will then be divided into groups of 4-6 students. Each group will Select a leader and a recorder. They will then brainstorm local issues, the more controversial the better, from their neighborhoods, schools, and city. Each group should prioritize all issues.
- Each leader will then present the group's issues to the entire class with the justification for that group's prioritization.
- The class will then vote on which 6 issues they will cover. Assuming that there are about 6 groups, there should be one major issue for each group.Next, each member of a group will develop a component of a presentation relating to the degree the media influences the resolution of the issue.
- One component would be the local newspaper's coverage of the issue (if any).
- Another component would be how the local TV stations, including public broadcasting stations, cover the issue (if any).
- Another component would be to ascertain how the city council and/or the county board of supervisors or a local school board handle the issue. Students in the group would attend the meetings of the groups listed above and report back their stand on the issues. Those same students would then contact their representatives on the local boards and councils to determine how they were influenced (if they were) on the issue: Asking them: How did local media influence their decision making process?
- Another component would be to contact local citizen groups, those for the proposal and those against. Students will contact spokesperson from each side to obtain the relevant facts involved in the issue.
Another component would include administering a poll to parents and friends, etc. obtaining a cross-section of the electorate (ethnicity, age, sex, and occupation) to try and determine if the media influenced their decision on the issue. Teacher will assist in developing polling questions.
These activities should take 2-3 class periods.
- Following this research, the groups would reconvene in class and each leader would present the findings of their group to the class.
- The teacher will guide the discussion with references to framing; any interest groups involved; and citizens on both sides of the issue.
- Students will check any polls on their issue that are used by the media and how these polls influenced the politicians. Or did private citizens, contacting their representatives, effectively persuade the politicians to vote according to the will of the majority?
- Students will compare the different TV stations and radio stations and any available newspapers to determine if the "facts" are the same, and try to determine what market is that particular station/paper targeting.
Activity 2 (Follow-up activity)
Did the citizen decide the issue on facts or does the media coverage create a bias?
Leaders and recorders will develop a record of all material their group produces for presentation to class.
Using the upcoming school bond election, students will analyze the impact of the media on local government. To initiate this study, the teacher will present the basic issue: Local school district tries to raise money through a bond election. The students identify the opposing sides (taxpayer groups and the school board, and the state law that mandates 2/3 majority for passage of bonds).
Part AThe class is divided into 6 teams of 4-6 students.
- Team 1 - will contact school board president, school administrators, teachers, and students to obtain the "facts". How much money is needed and for what?
- Team 2 - will contact taxpayer groups and find out factual reasons for opposing the bond. How much will taxes be increased if it passes? What is the average income of the total affected group?
- Team 3 - will contact editors of local newspapers and determine specifics. Does the paper endorse or not endorse the bond? and why? What is the average readership income level.? Note biases either way.
- Team 4 - will do the same for local radio stations, with specific attention to monitoring election activity two weeks prior to the election date.
- Team 5 - will do the same for local TV stations, including PBS stations.
- Team 6 - will conduct a poll (teacher will assist with questions of students, parents, teachers, variety of ages ethnicity, sex and occupations) trying to determine how they have been influenced on the bond issue. Determine the extent of media coverage on the issue.
Following the election students will present their findings.
- The leader of each group will present all information their group has developed to the class. It is anticipated that there will be areas of debate.
- At the close of the presentation, the teacher will refocus the student's attention on the six critical engagement questions, to determine how much influence the media coverage had on the outcome of the local school bond election.
Activity 3 (Optional)
Based on the bond election, the teacher would assist the students in setting up a forum consisting of 3 local editors and reporters (TV, radio, and newspaper) local elected officials, and two citizen advocates. Students will develop questions relating to the seven engagement questions. Trying to determine the extent to which the media may control the direction of local government. There will be a student moderator.
Upon completion of the unit, each student will turn in a progressive notebook containing all notes and conclusions made. Students will be given a grading matrix to personally evaluate their own entries. The notebook will be scored by the instructor against a rubric for each set of notes. The rubric will include points for completeness, demonstration of analysis clarity of comprehension of the issues, and neatness.Each student will then write a five or six paragraph essay answering the two essential questions. Each essay must contain references to all group presentations and support the stated conclusion.
- Fallows, James , Breaking the News. (Pantheon Books: New York-, copyright 1996, Chapter 6, "News and Democracy", (Selected segments)
- Auletta, Ken, "Fourteen Truisms for the Communications Revolution", Media Studies Journal (New York: Freedom Forum, Columbia University) summer 1996, pp 29-38
- Weaver, Paul, "Is TV News Biased?" The Public Interest, Number 26, Winter 1972 (Selected segments)
- Blendon, Robert, "Educating Americans about Public Issues in an Era of Distrust" John F. Kennedy School of Government, August 10, 1999
- Current Minutes of County Board of Supervisors, City Council, and School Board Meetings.
- Videotapings of local news broadcasts (all local stations)
Larry Warren's lesson plan, "The Media and Local Government" was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 1999, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 69.