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Making points; not just giving them

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sprclogoby Stan Zoller, MJE

A recent series of posts on the JEA Listserv piqued my interest more than others.

The topic was news quizzes.

What intrigued me was the discussion about not the quality of the news quizzes, where they are available and how they are being used.  There was also discussion about using them as a graded assignment as well as where teachers can find alternative quizzes to those posted by Candace Perkins Bowen.

Bowen, if you are not familiar with her, has done more for JEA than just write weekly news quizzes.  She currently serves on the JEA Board as past president, having served as president from 1993 – 1997. She is currently associate professor of journalism and director of the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University.  A little transparency is in order here; not only have I worked with Candace for a number of years on various projects, I am also a huge fan of the news quizzes.

But I don’t give them.

Instead I use them to generate class discussion.  I know — it’s not rocket science.  But rather than focus on what students know about the news, I use the news quizzes to find out how students found out about a specific news story, why the read the news story, what they thought of the story and what molded their opinion about a specific story.

I am often amazed by what stories resonate – or don’t – with college students.  The awareness, or lack of, adds challenges to the discussion.  Tease to a sports story and they’ll know it.  A story about the Kardashians or Beyoncé and they’ll know it.  A story about international affairs and you may get a series of blank stares.

Like Bowen, I am often amazed by what stories resonate – or don’t – with college students.  The awareness, or lack of, adds challenges to the discussion.  Tease to a sports story and they’ll know it.  A story about the Kardashians or Beyoncé and they’ll know it.  A story about international affairs and you may get a series of blank stares.

For those stories that receive a lion’s share of coverage, there’s a good chance there will be some familiarity with the issue.

For example, late last semester and, unfortunately into this semester, a story that continues to rear its ugly head is the continued fatal aggressiveness by the Chicago Police Department toward young African-American males.

The ongoing investigation and release of new videos documenting excessive force by Chicago cops gives students a chance to do more than say something like “yeah, I saw the story” or “that really sucks.”

It gives them a chance to debate the nature of today’s journalism, with many ethical questions being raised and discussed.

Among some of the discussion points that have been raised and discussed include:

  • Should broadcast media outlets have shown the entire video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald? Was it too sensitive for general television audiences?
  • Was the repetitive showing of the McDonald video in both the long and short form essential to follow-up reporting, or has it been done to generate viewers and website hits?
  • Is it more effective to have an African-American reporter assigned to the story? If so, can they be objective?

In addition to ethical issues, issues of legal matters can filter into the conversation.  For example,

  • Was the Chicago Police Department within its right to deny FOIA requests for release of the dash-cam video of the McDonald shooting within the realm of the law?
  • Were the minutes of the Chicago City Council meeting when a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family readily available after the meeting?
  • Why was another FOI request required to have the audio on the dash came included?
  • How much of the information posted on social media was verified?

These are just a few questions that could be asked from one news story, albeit a major one.  Instead of just citing a topic, I find coverage of a specific story and use it as an example. Careful deconstruction of the stories in a news quiz can cover not only the journalistic fundamentals, but also ethic and legal issues.

Bowen goes above and beyond in providing news quizzes for JEA member students.  Are there others out there?  Sure.  But odds are most are not ready for use in your classroom.

Using these news quizzes should do more than give points.

They should make points.

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