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How people interpret the news
and why it matters


by Maggie Cogar


How people interpret the news and why it matters

Why, and how, can two people be exposed to the exact same news story and interpret it differently? Why should this matter to journalists? People interpret the news differently depending on their cognitive schematic structure, or prior experiences. It’s important for journalists to understand this process so they can better understand how their audiences are interpreting the content they produce, and so they can ultimately use that information to help shape their content.


  • Students will explore how people process and interpret the news they consume.
  • Students will interpret a news story (by examining it multiple media forms) and compare/contrast their interpretation to that of their peers.
  • Students will discuss what individual differences in media interpretation means for journalistic practice.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.


50 minutes

Materials / resources

Slideshow: News Interpretation slideshow

Access to multiple forms of media (preferably print, tv, & online)

A Cognitive Psychology of Mass Communication by R.J. Harris (textbook suggested but not required)

New York Times: article on confirmation bias

New York Times article on: media, race and relationships

Lesson step-by-step

*Use News Interpretation slideshow to guide this lesson

Step 1 — Entrance Slip (5 minutes)

Students should complete the “motivating activity” on Slide 1 of the News Interpretation slideshow:

  • Hold up an object (select something that might elicit both positive and negative responses … like a pencil. Some students may hate the sight because it reminds them of homework, while others who love to read and write might love the sight of a pencil, etc.)
  • “What do you see?”
  • Have students spend one-two minutes writing down anything they can think of in relation to the object (tell them to write adjectives for how the object makes them feel, as well as any memories or connections the object brings to mind)
  • Discuss that each student will have a different reaction to that object based on their own personal experiences with it (diagram schemas/connections)

Step 2 — Lecture & Class Discussion (20 minutes)

Use the News Interpretation slideshow (se below) and notes provided to lecture on how people interpret the news using their own personal schematic structure. Suggestion: for the class discussion, do a think-pair-share in small groups before going to whole class discussion.

Step 3 — News Interpretation Activity (20 minutes)

Using a trending news story, have students create a Venn Diagram (use three circles — print, tv, online). Students should compare/contrast how the media outlets cover the same news story.

Focus points and questions to consider during this activity:

  • How do headlines or points of emphasis in coverage differ?
  • Are there any points in the story that could be misinterpreted?
  • Are there any apparent biases in coverage?
  • How would different people interpret how this story was covered?

Step 4 — Exit Slip (5 minutes)

In your own words, summarize why people can interpret the same news story differently.

Step 5 — Think About It (homework)

Before our next class, think about … ”which type of media do you think has the biggest cognitive effects on audience and why? (print, radio, broadcast, web)”

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