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Reporting sharks in the subway: Evaluating the credibility factor

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Part of  JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission’s Constitution Day lessons and activity package:

5. Lesson plan: Reporting sharks in the subway: evaluating the credibility factor

In this lesson, students will examine several leads on a common topic and evaluate the use of sources, facts and the value of the news itself.

Summative evaluation tool: Class discussion

Primary Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7

Secondary Common Core Standard(s) Addressed: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.3

21st Century Skills Incorporated: Critical thinking, communication, information media skills

Supplies, Technology, Other Materials Needed: Internet

Length of the Lesson: 50 minutes

Evaluation tools: Application of skills, development of guidelines

Appropriate for Grades: 9-12

Created by: John Bowen, MJE

Brief description of lesson: Students will discuss various leads on a recent, unusual topic in terms of strength of leads, attribution, type of sources, news value and ethics.

Lesson details:
Question: Given several leads, including a lighter approach and a more serious one, which of the leads below, on the same subject, is more acceptable, and why.

For instance:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/07/us/new-york-subway-shark/index.html?iref=allsearch

Compare that to:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/08/nyregion/after-cries-of-shark-riders-scurry-for-photos.html?hp&_r=1&  (Check out this NYT piece, “Not Native to N Train, a Shark Hitches a Ride” )

Additional coverage:
• Subway shark found on New York Train (ABC)
http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/08/subway-shark-found-on-new-york-train/
• Dead shark found on NYC subway (update)
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/07/dead-shark-subway_n_3719391.html
• Stand clear of the closing jaws: Shark found on NYC subway
http://www.today.com/news/stand-clear-closing-jaws-shark-found-nyc-subway-6C10875396
• The Discovery Channel is really upset about that dead shark on a New York subway
http://www.businessinsider.com/discovery-reacts-to-shark-on-nyc-subway-2013-8
• There was a dead shark on the New York subway this morning
http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/08/there-was-dead-shark-new-york-subway-morning/68076/
• Dead shark found on New York City subway
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-08-07/news/sns-rt-us-subway-shark-20130807_1_shark-week-dead-shark-subway
• Sources say they know exactly where that subway shark came from
http://gothamist.com/2013/08/08/sources_dead_shark_on_subway_came_fr.php#photo-

Compare and contrast the first two leads. Which works best for you, and why? Then examine the others. What do they add – or omit – and what are their strengths or weaknesses?

Which story do you prefer, and why? Is that the best way to tell the story? What should the audiences walk away with/

And now, the hidden agenda: Discuss attribution with students. Note that both pieces mention the shark “posing” with soda cans and Metro cards.

The Times attributes or “verifies” this with mentioning photos posted on the Gothamist website
(http://www.weather.com/video/shark-found-on-ny-subway-38269 ) while CNN gives no such attribution for the “fact.”

And, by the way, Shark Week was just to begin.

Is the story even news?

What ethical issues are raised?

Additional work (and maybe additional time)

Based on the exercise, discuss (and maybe even develop) guidelines for:
• Fitting leads to the content of stories
• Identifying credible sources
• Asking what type questions to get an accurate, complete, thorough and coherent story?
• Developing ethical standards for reporting stories

Potential ethical issues: the reporter contacted the Discovery Channel for a quote, after conspiracy theories surfaced that it was a marketing ploy.

The quotes themselves are lovely little jewels, which makes one wonder about the conversation and questions the reporter posed in order to get these responses. And how did he find the people on the train who saw the shark

Check out the caption on the photo, too. Does it give the audience enough information?

(Thanks to Ellen Austin and Tracy Anne Sena for ideas and the heads up to this great mini-lesson and discussion starter)

 

 

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