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Covering a Catastrophe

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Students understand the role of journalism in responding to a disaster, including journalists’ responsibilities, limitations and code of ethics.

By focusing on how journalists respond to catastrophic events, this unit helps students better understand the role of the press in society and the guidelines reporters follow in their work. It includes pre- and post-visit activities designed to bracket the Covering a Catastrophe EDClass, plus a class-specific Newseum gallery guide. (The activities can also be done independent of a visit.) Through these experiences, students will explore the vital role journalism plays in the wake of a disaster and grapple with real-life dilemmas that journalists have faced when covering traumatic events.

OBJECTIVE: Students understand the role of journalism in responding to a disaster, including journalists’ responsibilities and limitations, and can apply the reporter’s code of ethics to a range of dilemmas.

TARGET AUDIENCE: Middle and high school

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Overview PDF DOC
Worksheets PDF DOC
Extensions PDF DOC
Full Packet PDF DOC

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  • What is the role of journalism during and after a disaster?
  • What challenges do journalists face when covering a disaster?
  • How does the journalist’s code of ethics shape disaster news?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of breaking news coverage?
  • How does the press shape our experience of these events?
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  • The role of the free press
  • Media ethics
  • How the news is made
  • Ethical debate and decision-making
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  1. Before Your Visit
    • Press Conference Simulation: Students stage a mock press conference to experience the process and challenges of effectively communicating and disseminating information.
  2. During Your Visit
    • EDClass – Covering a Catastrophe: Through the lens of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, students explore the unique practical and ethical challenges journalists face when covering catastrophic breaking news.
    • Covering a Catastrophe Gallery Guide: Students visit the Comcast 9/11 Gallery to learn about the horrendous events of Sept. 11, 2001, and how journalists covered a story that shook the nation and world.
  3. After Your Visit
    • Planning for the Unpredictable: From the perspective of journalists, students prepare a plan of action for responding to possible traumatic events.
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