Where Do We Get Our News and Why Does It Matter?

News Literacy and Media Bias

Last Updated: January 9, 2020

We live in a time when it can be difficult to identify reliable news sources. Though the term “fake news” is often used as a political weapon, the problem of stories that are reliant on sloppy journalism, intentionally misleading, or fabricated, is real. Even reliable news sources can have political perspectives that affect their coverage of the news. Across the world, people increasingly turn to social media to learn about key current events, which can make it even more difficult to determine the reliability or perspective of a news story. Whatever the news story, young people need media literacy tools to assess the articles and videos that come through their feeds and to consider the ethics of what they read and share.

This Teaching Idea is designed to help students take stock of their media choices, explore media bias, and think about what healthy news habits they want to adopt.

  1. Consider Your News Diet: What News Do You Consume and How?

    Read When It Comes to News, Americans Would Rather Watch Than Read or Listen from Newsela (free account required). Use the Think, Pair, Share strategy to give students the opportunity to respond to and discuss the following:

    • How do you learn about what’s happening in your community, your country, and around the world?
    • How do you get your news? (from peers, parents, teachers, newspapers or magazines, online news sources, social media?)
    • How do you feel about the news from the last few months? What stories have been particularly memorable?
    • Do you think the news sources you follow reinforce what you already believe or challenge you with a broader array of perspectives?
  2. How Can You Navigate Bias in the News?

    As a class, brainstorm a list of the controversial events that have been in the news in the last few weeks. Ask your students to pick one of the events from your brainstorm and answer the following questions:

    • Why is this event controversial?
    • What do you think people on the different sides of this controversy believe?

    Then, show your students a media bias chart, such as the AllSides' Media Bias Chart or Ad Fontes Media’s Interactive Media Bias Chart 5.0. Ask your students:

    Visit the websites of three of the news sources listed in the media bias chart that you showed your students: one from the left, one from the right, and one from the center (for example, from MSNBC, Fox News, and Reuters). As a class, discuss:

    • What are the similarities and differences between the three news sources? Do they feature the same or different events on the front page?
    • Look for headlines about the same event across the three sources. How does the framing of the event vary between the sources? What do you think could explain the differences?
    • How do you think it affects people’s views on an issue when they get all their news from sources on one end of the political spectrum?

    (Note to teacher: If you want to explore one issue more deeply, select an article from each of the three sources ahead of time that covers the same event. Print copies of the articles and ask students to read them in small groups.)

    As a full class, discuss:

    • Which news sources do you recognize?
    • Do the placements of any of the news sources surprise you?
    • Are there news sources that are popular in your community or country that are not on the chart? If so, where on the chart do you think they would be placed?
    • Do you think you understand the different perspectives on the major events that are in the news right now, even if you don't agree with all of those perspectives? What sources do you think you could consult to find reliable information about the perspectives you don't understand?
    • How has completing this activity either reinforced or changed the way that you plan to follow the news in the future?
  3. What Healthy News Habits Might You Adopt?

    Students may see intentionally misleading and fabricated news on controversial events in their social media feeds, and it is important for them to be able to distinguish between fake stories and reliable sources. Share the News Literacy Project’s Ten Questions for Fake News Detection and have students look over the questions it asks to help them identify the quality of a news piece. Ask your students:

    • Do you employ any of these strategies already? If so, which ones?
    • Do any of these questions surprise you? Why or why not?

    Invite students to write down their goals for how they will follow the news, which they can share with their classmates, friends, and families, as an exit card. They can draw on the Ten Questions for ideas. Prompt them to respond to the following questions:

    • What can you do to ensure that the news and information you use to form your opinions is accurate?
    • How will you try to become aware of and overcome confirmation bias when you respond to news and information?
    • Why is this important? What effect does the way we all consume news and media have on our society? On our ability to live up to the ideals of democracy?

Additional Resources:

Use our Explainer on Political Polarization in the United States to teach your students about political divides in the United States and growing animosity between members of the two political parties.

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