Teaching Students About the Media

This morning like so many other students across the country, my students wanted to talk about Ferguson. They had questions that I didn’t have answers for, “why are people setting things on fire?” “Why are the police shooting tear gas at people?” “How long will the riots last?”

But the best question I heard was in the hall between two students that aren’t mine. “Isn’t there anything else going on in the world?”

Yes, as a matter of fact, there are lots of things going on in the world, but those stories are buried in the newspaper or have to be sought out on news websites.  The Syrian Civil War continues, there are pro-Democracy protests in Hong Kong, and violence continues throughout the African continent. But none of those things are found on the nightly news, the CNN homepage, or the first few pages on a newspaper.

This is nothing new. In 1994, we focused on Tonya Harding and O.J. Simpson instead of machete wielding Hutus committing acts of genocide on their Tutsi neighbors. For decades the media has paid little attention to coups and violence throughout Latin America. In the time since Michael Brown’s death, more than 150,000 children have died of water related illnesses, yet it’s not covered by the media.

As we talk about source evaluation, we need to evaluate why news outlets cover the stories they do. The news is not a service, it is a business. Businesses make money. The networks, newspapers, and other traditional journalists cover stories that will keep the public’s attention, not stories that are important on global level.

Students need to learn that ‘the news’ isn’t a universal truth, it is a conscious decision by a business who needs to keep viewers to please sponsors. We need to remind students that just like when they research and find multiple sources, their consumption of news needs to be done the same way.

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