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Effective and complete use of sources


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

Judges of all types of scholastic media platforms report a definite increase in the lack of sources – and not just appropriate ones. These lessons can help students understand the importance of identifying sources and how to assure their audiences that their stories have the right sources – people or other resources.

Summative evaluation tool: Student task performance and created product

Primary Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2

Secondary Common Core Standard(s) Addressed: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2e

21st Century Skills Incorporated: Communication and critical thinking

Supplies, Technology, Other Materials Needed: Handouts, online resources and computers

Length of the Lesson: 90 minutes (2 class periods)

Evaluation tools: In-class and homework assignments

Appropriate for Grades: 9-12

Created by: John Bowen, MJE

Brief description of lesson:
Students will critique existing stories for use of appropriate and relevant sources and then apply what they learned to an existing story of their own or a future assignment for their student media.

Teachers may want to use a coaching writing model for this activity, which an explanation can be found at:

Lesson details:

Day 1:
Given journalistic principles:
• Attribution is needed for all viewpoint and all non-commonly known information in any type of content
• If your mother says she loves you, get three sources – and then attribute the information
Verify, verify, verify – and then question what authority tells you
• Avoid clerkism. Described fully in Blur, by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosestiel, clerkism is just taking down and reporting everything a source tells a reporter.

Some key questions on the use of sources in scholastic media stories of all platforms:
• Why do we need sources in stories?
• Are sources any more (or less) important in scholastic journalism stories than in commercial media?
• Why are sources important in scholastic media stories? (Ethical principles of credibility, verification, balance, perspective, coherence)(Helping audiences understand the role of media in terms of accuracy, information and enabling an informed public)
• In what type of stories is sourcing important (including in opinion stories to add credibility)
• What kind of sources should be used in stories? Does the platform matter for their use (do any platforms work best without sources? Why or why not? Examples?)
• Consider these four types of sources:

— Expert: the single most authoritative source for this topic

— Authoritative: Sources who have a great deal of information and experience with this topic

— Knowledgeable: Those who might have applied or experienced the topic, but to a lesser degree than authoritative sources

— Reactive/Bozo: Person on the street, someone reacting to the story

Should stories have all four types? Why or why not?

• An example of each of these four types of sources:

–Expert: Dr. Robert I White, the world’s foremost researcher and surgeon in head transplants

–Authoritative: Drs. and others who worked with Dr. White in his studies and experiments

–Knowledgeable: Those who studied Dr. White’s research and observed his operations (once or twice)

–Reactive/Bozo: Someone who is reacting to the fact that Dr. White does head transplants

Guidelines for why reporters use sources:

Once students have brainstormed and discussed the pros and cons of questions like the previous ones, direct them to these online resources for reading in class or as assignments:
• Handbook of journalism
• You can quote me on that: advice on attribution for journalists
• Verifying sources
• 6 ways journalists can use press releases effectively
• Citation journalism and the blurring lines in reporting

Students will critique the following stories in terms of use of sources:
• Don’t just ride, bike MS
• Alcohol DUI chart: how many drinks will get you a DUI?
• Fire department adds powerful new rescue tools to its arsenal

Students will then give suggestions for what sources, and numbers of them, would make the story complete, accurate and coherent

Day 2:

Students can discuss their evaluations of the story(ies), how they would improve the story, and then develop a policy for their staff manual (or reevaluate an existing policy) about source use.

Students would then take a story they have done or one they are planning and identify appropriate sources for it, discussing their reasoning.

Alternative: Critique the first story and go on to a second one. Then develop a policy for the staff manual.



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