1. What is the benefit of reviewing multiple sources, written from different perspectives, about the same topic? What are the consequences when we limit ourselves to only one version of events? Given the tremendous amount of information available on the Internet, how do you know when you have accessed enough information to form a thoughtful opinion about a subject?
2. Nicholas Kristof’s column is an editorial; Leana Wen and Will Okun wrote blogs; the other stories appeared in the front sections of the newspaper.What information do you assume about media based on its genre (type) and where you find it? Is it important that “news” stories are distinguished from opinion pieces? Why or why not?
3. According to the Center for Journalism Ethics, “The internet has created a new sphere where everyone can be a journalist; all you need is a computer and an opinion—no training necessary.”1 Do you think that only a trained journalist should be reporting the news? Why or why not? When reading a news story, what do you want to know about who wrote it? Why is this information important?
4. What criteria do you use when deciding if you can trust what you are reading, watching, or hearing? If you were writing a news story, blog, or editorial, what could you do to improve your trustworthiness as a writer?
5. When you think of Africa, what images and topics come to mind? Do you think of Africa as one vast continent or as a collection of distinct nations? Do you think of Nobel Prize winners, successful businesses, and thriving agriculture? Why might this be the case? See Africa Differently is a website dedicated to celebrating the good news coming out of Africa. What is the role of such a website?
6. Richard Dowden argues that journalists like Kristof paint a negative portrait of Africa because they cover only the problems facing the continent. Reporter filmmaker Eric Metzgar responds to this argument as follows:
My response is that—the way that Nick works is. . . a bit like a surgeon. You know, you don't wanna go in and have your surgeon tell you, "Well, I've looked you over and your elbow is workin' just fine and your vision's great. And come back later." You know, you'd say, "Well, I came here to know what the problems are and what we can do to fix ‘em." And so Nick goes in there simply to say, "Look, there's excess suffering happening here. And people are not shining a light on it. Americans are not aware of what's happening, and if they were then maybe they can do something.2
What do you think of Metzgar’s argument? What could be the consequences if reporters focus exclusively (or mostly) on the problems facing a community? What could be the consequences if reporters focus exclusively (or mostly) on solutions? What do you suggest as a reasonable compromise for those who want reporters to cover both problems and solutions? How should communities be represented by the media? Is it important for journalists to balance negative stories with positive ones? How is your community covered by the media? Are there stories that should be told that are not covered by the media? Why do you think this may be the case?
7. In an interview with Teen Ink magazine, Kristof shares one of his concerns as a reporter. He worries that “focusing on the massacres, and the mass rape, and all the other bad things, I leave people with a misperception of the continent [Africa] as a whole that discourages tourism, that discourages studying abroad, that discourages investment.”3 Do you think this is a valid concern? What could Kristof do so that readers are less likely to hold misperceptions of Africa?
8. In the editorial “Dinner with a Warlord,” Kristof complains about the lack of media coverage of Congo:
More than four million people have died in Congo’s wars since 1998, making it the most lethal conflict since World War II. Probably no slaughter has gotten fewer column inches—or fewer television minutes—per million deaths. So even after all that suffering, Congo still hasn’t risen to a prominent place on the international agenda.
What gets the most attention in the media, in the newspaper, on television, and on the Internet and social networking sites? What should get the most attention? Why?
9. According to a 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center, most Americans “follow international news only when important developments occur.”4 What can be done to bring attention to ongoing humanitarian crises, like poverty, lack of clean drinking water, the mistreatment of women and girls, etc.?
1 Carolynne Burkholder, “Citizen Journalism.”
2 “Transcript: Caring About Congo.”
3 Eliza E. and Alicia H., “Journalist Nicholas Kristof,” Teen Ink, accessed September 19, 2010.
4 "Key News Audiences Now Blend Online and Traditional Sources," The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, August 17, 2008, http://www.people-press.org/2008/08/17/key-news-audiences-now-blend-online-and-traditional-sources.