What Do We Learn From the News?: How Reporters’ Choices Shape our Understanding of the World

To deepen students’ understanding of key themes in the film, ten supplementary readings have been included in the study guide. Readings are organized into four investigations that correspond to specific excerpts and themes in the film. Each investigation includes an overview that frames the readings. Readings are following by a series of connections that can be used to frame discussions and writing assignments.

Investigation Three focuses on ideas presented in chapters 13 to 17 (1:01:40–1:19:38, approximately 20 minutes). In this clip, Nicholas Kristof, Will Okun, and Leana Wen travel to the headquarters of General Laurent Nkunda, leader of a rebel militia fighting against the Congolese government and known for perpetrating war crimes. Kristof interviews Nkunda about his role in the civil war and is then granted the opportunity to interview child soldiers captured by Nkunda’s army. Investigation Three includes four published accounts of the situation in eastern Congo written between June and November 2007. The first reading, “Dinner with a Warlord” is an editorial written by Kristof. The next two readings are blog entries written by college students, the first by Leana Wen and the second by teacher Will Okun, who both accompanied Kristof on this trip to Congo. The last reading “3-Way Battles Again Jolt Eastern Congo,” comes from the international section of the New York Times and would be classified as news reporting. In addition to these readings, Investigation Three also includes a collection of four images (Reading 9) taken by Will Okun during his trip to eastern Congo.

Suggested Activities

One or more of these ideas, in addition to your own, can be used to create a lesson plan relevant to your students.

Viewing

  1. If students are not watching the whole film, you can introduce Reporter by having them watch the two-minute clip Introducing the Film.
  2. To provide context for the readings in this investigation, have students watch chapters 13 to 17 (1:01:40–1:19:38, approximately 20 minutes).
  3. For a focused discussion about the use of child soldiers, have students view the two-minute clip Child Soldier.

Reading

  1. To help students develop media literacy skills, ask them to identify the purpose, message, and audience of one or more readings included in this investigation. Specific questions they can answer in their journals or on a graphic organizer include: What was the reporter’s purpose in writing this piece? Who do you think is the intended audience for this article? What message does it send about Congo? What other messages, if any, does it express?
  2. Each of the texts included in Investigation Three provides a different way to look at eastern Congo in 2007. To help students understand how reporters make choices when writing “the news,” divide students into five groups and assign each of them a reading or the collection of images. Ask groups to discuss what they learn about Congo from reading or viewing that text. Each group (or individual) can complete the statement “Based on this reading, when I think about Congo…” Then assign each group a second reading. Have students discuss how their understanding of Congo has changed, if at all. If you have time, you could do this exercise until students have had the opportunity to read or view all of the texts. You might also have students keep a log of their experience, reflecting on how each text contributes to their understanding of eastern Congo and other topics (international aid, politics, fear, religion, etc.). The texts included in Investigation Three are not meant to represent a global picture of Congo; rather, they depict Congo, particularly eastern Congo, at a particular point in time. To help students appreciate this idea, ask them to consider what they don’t know about Congo. What information is not included in these articles? For example, do they know about the history of Congo? Where is the country located? How many people live there? What more do students want to know about Congo? Where might they find this information?
  3. Other strategies that can help students comprehend and interpret these texts include:

Writing

  1. When reviewing the readings in this investigation, ask students to identify the differences between news reporting and opinion writing. Then students can apply their understanding to writing two pieces on the same topic—one as a news reporter and the other as an editorial writer or blogger. Before beginning this writing exercise, students can research other stories written about their topic.
  2. In the blog post “Fear,” Will Okun connects what he is experiencing in Africa to his experiences as a teacher in Chicago. You might ask students to write an article like Okun’s in which they make a connection between something happening far away and something happening close to home. (For more examples of this, students can read other articles Okun wrote during his trip to central Africa for the blog “ Two for the Road .”)
  3. Ask students to write a poem or an article about one of the images Will Okun took in central Africa (Reading 9). Students can use information from Reporter,the readings in Investigation Three, and outside research to help with their story. Okun’s website includes many more images from his trip with Kristof. A variation on this exercise would be to ask students to write an article about one of the images in the style of one of the texts included in Investigation Three. You could assign students a particular style (e.g., a blog, an editorial, a news story) or allow students to choose for themselves.
  4. Any of the connections that follow the readings could be used as prompts for informal writing, such as journaling, or formal writing, such as persuasive papers.

Discussing

  1. Any of the connections can be used to stimulate small- or large-group discussion. Some teachers allow students to choose the connections most interesting to them and then create discussion groups accordingly.
  2. The overview and the readings contain many quotations that can be used to stimulate discussion. You could assign groups of students one of the readings in this investigation and ask them to select a quotation from this reading that stands out to them. Two strategies that can be used to structure discussions about these quotations include big paper: building a silent conversation and gallery walk.
  3. Chapter 17 of Reporter (as well as the Child Solider film excerpt ) presents a conversation between Nicholas Kristof and a child soldier who has been imprisoned by General Nkunda. The following prompts can be used to deepen a discussion about this part of the film:
  • What are your thoughts after seeing Kristof interview child soldiers?
  • What did the child soldiers do to become Nkunda’s prisoners?
  • If these young people are guilty of committing crimes, should they be punished for their actions, even though they are under the age of 18?
  •  Should we think of the actions of child soldiers the same way we think about the actions of adult soldiers? Why or why not?
  1. The materials in this investigation raise many complicated questions about the media. One way to have students discuss these is by structuring a four-corners discussion using statements such as:
  • Articles written by a professionally trained reporter in an established newspaper can be trusted more than a blog post written by an average citizen.
  • The media should focus as much attention on positive stories about a community as is spent on negative stories about a community.
  • Stories about serious issues such as poverty, education, war, and the environment should get more attention from the media than stories about celebrities do.

Research

  1. How is your community (city, neighborhood, school, etc.) covered by the media? Give students the opportunity to search the Internet, local newspapers, and television news to answer this question. Students can share the results of their search. Then students can discuss what they think of these findings. Is their community covered fairly by the media? What gets covered? Are there issues or events that students think should get better coverage? If so, what could students do to bring attention to these issues?
  2. Kristof points out that Congo is rarely covered in the news, even though the civil war there has resulted in millions of deaths. Students can explore this question for themselves by going to the website of a major news publication and searching for articles on Congo. Once students find an article, they could put the text into a program such as Wordle to create a visual related to how Congo is represented by the news media.
  3. What does get covered on the news? In particular, what gets “front page” attention? Ask students to pay attention to the news (online, print, or television) for several days and track what gets their attention. Then students can analyze the results. Why do they think these stories are covered more than others? How do the topics that actually get the most coverage compare to what students think should get the most coverage? This exercise could culminate with students, individually or in groups, designing a front page that reflects the stories they think should get the most attention from the news media.
  4. Students can do their own research to learn more about the plight of child soldiers around the world. The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers provides an array of resources to help the public better understand this issue, including basic facts and the testimony of child soldiers.

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