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Duration
30-60 minutes
Topic(s)
  • Current Events
  • Elections
  • Politics
Grade(s)
  • 6-12
  • College/University

  1. Ask students how they hear about campaign news? What sources do they use for updates on the candidates and election events?
  2. This case study is one of four in the Campaign Messages section of the EDCollection that looks at communication strategies in speeches, news coverage, ads and all-encompassing campaign trail events. Explain that the case study they will be looking at will raise questions about the strengths and weaknesses of each source for the public.
  3. Read the Explore the Debate question aloud and/or write it on the board. Read them the overview that sets the scene for group work. Tell them they will use historical and contemporary examples to reach a consensus in small groups on an answer to the debate question.
  4. Pass out copies of the case study and the Organizing Evidence worksheet. Have the groups read each of the four Election Essentials and use the Questions to Consider to help guide the discussion. They should complete sections 1 and 2 on the worksheet.
  5. Have the students look at the Pages From History artifacts for the case study on NewseumED.org and complete section 3 on the worksheet. Give the groups 15 minutes to collect and organize information to formulate evidence-supported arguments for their answer to the debate question. (If time is an issue, skip the artifacts or assign as homework.)
  6. Ask the groups to share their conclusions and reasoning. You may want to use the Questions to Consider again to push and expand the debate.

  • Copies of the case study handout, one per student (download)
  • Organizing Evidence worksheet, one per group (download)
  • Access to NewseumED.org case study artifacts
  • NewseumED Pinterest board of related resources (optional)

Where can voters get information about the candidates, and how valuable is each option?

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” But becoming informed in today’s media landscape is not a straightforward process. From blogs to TV networks to the candidates’ own tweets and email blasts, there is no shortage of information about the presidential race. The challenge is not where to find out what’s happening in the campaign, but how to know which sources can be trusted and for what purposes.

1. Can You Trust Newspapers?

In the early United States, newspapers were both the primary source of all news and the mouthpieces of political parties. For example, in 1800 a Federalist newspaper supporting President John Adams’s re-election bid reported that if rival and Vice President Thomas Jefferson became president, “In a short time, licentiousness and immorality would meet with the most public approbation … and men would … [become] infamous debauchees, assassins, cheats, thieves, liars." Such brash attacks became less common as party-controlled newspapers faded near the end of the 19th century. Today, most mainstream news outlets have codes of ethics that guide staff into separating news from opinion, but logistical challenges or personal biases still have the power to creep in and color what news is reported and how.

2. New Media, New Perspectives

Print newspapers are no longer the only or even the primary source of news. In fact, 67 percent of U.S. adults in 2017 reported getting at least some of their news from social media, up 5 percentage points from a year earlier. Half of U.S. adults said they often get news from television (local/network or cable), compared with 43% who often get their news online (news websites/apps or social media). This increase in digital news consumption allows diverse sources to bring attention to smaller campaign events, shed new light on a topic and add new perspectives to the conversation. But many are produced by untrained journalists or are for a niche audience, leading to incomplete or agenda-driven reporting.

3. From the Horse’s Mouth

Presidential candidates and their campaign teams now use social media to bypass traditional news media to take their messages directly to voters. It allows them to get personal, control the content and avoid cross-examinations, though a growing number of fact-checking operations put statements to a truth test afterward. In 2008, 2.9 million people signed up to get a text message from presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama announcing his running mate. Major news organizations broke the news before most people got the text, but the candidate still benefited, according to Nic Covey with Nielsen Mobile. "The value of the message goes far beyond the 26 words and 2.9 million recipients," he said. "Here, Obama branded himself as cutting edge, inflated the already enormous press attention paid to his VP pick and further established a list of supporters’ most coveted form of contact: their cellphone numbers." News direct from the campaign has its advantages it can provide access to the candidate and knowledge of campaign strategies but it is also shaped by an agenda.

4. The Numbers Game

In the news networks’ ongoing competition to attract viewers, which in turn drives the money they make off advertising, debates play a key role. In the 2016 Republican primary debates, candidate Donald Trump, known for his controversial opinions and brash style, became seen as “ratings gold.” At a February debate hosted and broadcast by CNN, the network brought Trump back for two interviews immediately after the debate concluded. When Trump backed out of a March debate, Fox canceled the event altogether. Print, digital and broadcast news outlets have to sell themselves to the public and advertisers, which may shape their news judgment and coverage and give popular subjects more control of the narrative.

 

 

  • Why do some people complain that today’s news media is biased? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • When is bias in election news from media organizations, the candidates or the public a problem?
  • Where do you get news about political campaigns or other important events? Why do you use these sources?
  • What do you think is most important to consider when analyzing campaign information: who made it (source), why it was made (purpose), for whom it was made (audience), or how it was made (execution)? Explain.

 

Find three sources of information about one campaign issue, event or development. Review the content of the articles using NewseumED’s E.S.C.A.P.E. Junk News worksheet. Then, rate the bias of each source on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is completely unbiased and 10 is extremely biased. Write a paragraph or record a short video explaining your ratings by discussing the evidence, source, context, audience, purpose and execution of each article.

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