News and Media: All Media are Constructions

22 Sep

This is the first in a series of special posts co-written by Ms. Keats and Ms. Solomon to reflect on the #K12Media Twitter chats.

As we’ve transitioned into this special series of #K12Media chats, we thought we’d add a blog component in order to reflect on the lively and productive discussions. We also wanted a space to continue the conversation. Often an hour isn’t enough, or we think of something wonderful to add later. Monday’s discussion has refreshed and enriched our own understanding of both the key concept and the medium; it has us reconsidering the possibilities of the media studies units we’ve developed in the past.

We’re exhilarated about the opportunities that a good discussion can generate; there was much for us to process and reflect on following Monday night’s twitter chat about news media. We find ourselves still left with more questions than answers about news media (especially with regards to social media) and incorporating the study of news in the classroom. Not that that’s a bad thing...

A starting point within our discussion centred on asking, “How do we define the news we want to critique?” Where do we find it? With the plethora of news outlets on television, online, on the radio, news varies as the medium changes. We discussed the ways the story of news can be changed or shifted, depending on the type of media outlet. What does it mean when a story is presented on the front page with a large picture? How does that picture shape our impression of the story? What will change when we watch a story on CNN or CBC? We started to think about time as a part of the delivery of a news story: Does it matter when we are watching? How does our impression potentially shift if we trust one outlet more (and how does this therefore reveal our own potential biases)? Are we sceptical when we are exposed to a story in one place and later hear a differing version? Much of the discussion centred around the need for us as teachers to help our students see the construction of news within a medium. While facts may be presented, the story that is produced still needs to be seen through a critical lens and not accepted passively or trusted as objectively as we may imagine it once was.

In learning to do this, our students are defining more clearly: authority, validity, ownership, and trust of news media. These concepts transcend the medium itself and can help foster our students’ sense of their own participation within the stories that surround them. There’s a particular need to address the students’ connection to the rising prevalence of social media as news outlets. How does the immediacy of media like Twitter create a dialogue between more established news outlets and the rising power of social media? Has there been a power shift when it comes to the delivery of “the story of the news”? Who are the new power brokers? What biases exist within and between the older and newer “news” media formats? More importantly, how can these media help to expand our understanding and embrace more fully the more muddled (but perhaps more realized) “truth” when we see the story from those multiple perspectives? What does watching pieces of a story come out in real time do to our understanding of that story? How does the story then get framed, shaped, altered or ignored by more traditional media? Can social media like Twitter help expose some of the ways in which these stories are constructed?  Or will social media act as a filter or echo chamber for our own preferences and biases?

The path of the discussion led us to the notion, not only of critique, but to the creation of news as well.  How do we help our students to learn the construction of the news form so that they can begin to create within the medium and also potentially to create beyond it?

Ms. Keats has become intrigued in the last few years with infographics. How can we present facts/statistics/information so that the visual material supports and completes the facts themselves? Because of the ideas and the flow of the discussion, she started thinking: Can a news story be turned into an infographic...tracing the different aspects of a major news story into a series of visuals that reflect how the story has unfolded? As a visual person, she would love to see how this could work with  and be interpreted by students within the classroom. 

Resources: (allows you to make your own infographics and view ones made by others)

Good magazine (an online magazine that has a section devoted to infographics on a variety of topics)

Ms. Solomon has become intrigued with how stories unfold in real time via social media. She watched the aftermath of the Iranian election in 2009 and became fascinated with how to study those kinds of moments in the classroom. She still remembers the experience of watching the first Gulf War unfold on television, of first hearing the news of 9/11 on the radio, and more recently, watching the assassination of Osama Bin Laden unfold via Twitter. How much did the medium contribute to her understanding? How does Twitter construct reality differently from other media? As a hashtagged story unfolds, how does the audience negotiate meaning in 140 character bits? And what is the effect on traditional media of using this information?


“The Dawn of the Eye” CBC’s excellent documentary. It’s dated (from 1996) but particularly relevant as we reflect on how media coverage of news has changed (the "Embattled Witness" section, specifically)

See? More questions than answers. We’re just so glad that there is a network of other people out there who are interested in asking questions, too.  

You can see the full archived chat on the Wiki, or take a look at the story below!

Photo: via Nik Hewitt.