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Duration
30-60 minutes
Topic(s)
  • Current Events
  • Journalism
Grade(s)
  • 7-12

  1. Tell students that they’re going to learn about how news is produced and how to determine if it is reliable. Ask students to think of a recent issue or event in the news. Then brainstorm a list of who was or could have been involved in creating and sharing news about that issue or event in today’s media landscape. Answers should cover a broad range of players, such as paparazzi, reporters, news apps, friends on social media, print or online publications, students themselves, etc.
  2. Distribute the Who Touches the News worksheet and have students go through the quick exercise of putting the four imagined individuals in order of their role in creating or spreading the news story. Once they’ve finished, ask them which of these people they think is the source for this news story. Answers may vary students may argue that any of these individuals could be considered the source of this story depending on where/how the reader got it. In everyday conversations, students often describe Google or a friend who shared a story as their “source.”
  3. Explain that sometimes there is confusion over what we mean when we say the source of a news story. While the word source can be used loosely in many ways, when it comes to news, the source is the person or thing that provides key information.
  4. Watch the “Getting to the Source” explainer video and review the accompanying tipsheet graphic. Look back at the Who Touches the News worksheet and have students assign a role/layer to each of the names from this exercise. Based on the small amount of information here, do they think this scientist would be a reliable source? Apply the key questions from the graphic to guide the discussion. Also discuss their answers to where they might find this type of news story and point out that some methods of sharing are driven automatically by technology (news apps/alerts/feeds), while others depend on an individual using a tool to share something (a posting on Twitter or message via WhatsApp). Though these examples may be where the news “came from” before it reached you, they aren’t the original source.
  5. Tell students it’s time to apply their source-digging skills to real-life examples. Distribute the worksheet and printed media examples from the News or Noise? media map, or provide students with access to the map online. Walk through one example as a class to ensure comprehension. Then have students work individually or in small groups to complete the worksheet.
    • Suggested example for group review:
      • National Walkout Day: Black Teens Ambivalent About Walkouts, 2018 (1 and 2 of 2)
    • Suggested example for student analysis:
      • Pokémon Go: Marketers Take Advantage of Pokémon Go Fad, 2016
  6. Have students discuss their answers and process, then use the questions below to continue the conversation.

  • Why is recognizing the source(s) essential to evaluating a news story?
  • How many sources did you find in your news story? Were there enough? Too few? Too many? Explain.
  • What additional sources do you think the reporter could have used?
  • When and how should reporters use anonymous sources?
  • Which of the key questions about a source’s reliability is the easiest to answer? The most difficult?
  • When would you be most likely to do a little extra digging to find out more about a reporter’s source? Why?

Watch the “Ask an Expert: Anonymous Sources” video featuring professor Mike Freedman from George Washington University and share the AP’s guidelines on when it is acceptable to use an anonymous sources. Discuss the guidelines and video. Then, have students find articles that use anonymous sources and check them against the AP guidelines. Can they tell if this instance satisfied the guidelines or not? How does the use of the anonymous source affect how they view the story in general? Discuss and/or write short essays taking a position on why anonymous sources are or are not an acceptable method of reporting a news story.

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