Facing Ferguson: News Literacy in a Digital Age

Civics
US History

Essential Question

What is the role of journalism in a democratic society, and how can we become responsible consumers and producers of news and information in the digital age?

Introduction

On the afternoon of August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot to death in a confrontation with Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Within a week, the shooting became a flashpoint for a national discussion about race, policing, and justice in the United States. Using Ferguson as a case study, students will explore the media coverage and the protests that followed—driven to a large degree by social media—and learn to become informed and effective civic participants in today’s digital landscape.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • Investigate the choices and challenges facing journalists as they report on a story, including the importance of verification, sourcing, and other journalistic practices and standards.
  • Understand the role that confirmation bias, stereotyping, and other cognitive biases plays in how we interpret events, news, and information.
  • Explore the impact of social media on the traditional news cycle, and understand the role it can play in influencing public opinion and the press.
  • Develop critical thinking and news literacy skills to help students find reliable information to make decisions, take action, and responsibly share news through social media.
  • Consider their role as citizens in a democracy and their responsibilities as civic participants and citizen watchdogs.
Lesson Series: 

Lesson 1 of 11
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Preparing Students for Difficult Conversations

Students establish a safe space for holding sensitive conversations, before introducing the events surrounding Ferguson, by acknowledging people's complicated feelings about race and creating a classroom contract.

Lesson 2 of 11
Democracy & Civic Engagement

The Impact of Identity

Students explore how identity impacts our responses to other people and events by examining a cartoon and analyzing an opinion poll from a week after Ferguson.

Lesson 3 of 11
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Confirmation and Other Biases

Students define explicit, implicit, and confirmation bias, and examine why people sometimes maintain their beliefs in the face of contradictory information.

Lesson 4 of 11
Democracy & Civic Engagement

How Journalists Minimize Bias

Students experience the challenges to reporting objectively by writing a news piece and watching a video about how journalists counteract bias in the newsroom.

Lesson 5 of 11
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Verifying Breaking News

Students evaluate the differences among news accounts about Ferguson, develop strategies for verifying news and information, and understand the challenges facing journalists as they cover complex, fast-moving events.

Lesson 6 of 11
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Social Media and Ferguson

Students explore the role of social media in Ferguson, apply information verification strategies to social media posts, and develop strategies for becoming critical consumers and sharers of social media.

Lesson 7 of 11
Democracy & Civic Engagement

The Power of Images

Students examine how identity and biases can impact how individuals interpret images and experience the challenge of selecting images to represent news events, particularly connected to sensitive issues.

Lesson 8 of 11
Democracy & Civic Engagement

#IfTheyGunnedMeDown

Students explore the potential negative impact of images through the social media protest #IfTheyGunnedMeDown and develop a decision-making process for choosing imagery to represent controversial events.

Lesson 9 of 11
Democracy & Civic Engagement

The Importance of a Free Press

Students review the First Amendment, understand the importance of a free press, and consider how that freedom can conflict with other societal needs through journalists’ experiences in Ferguson.

Lesson 10 of 11
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Hands Up, Don't Shoot!

Students review the US Department of Justice report, revisit how confirmation bias impacts our understanding of events, and consider how to bridge the gap in understanding that often surrounds events like Ferguson.

Lesson 11 of 11
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Citizen Watchdogs and the News

Students identify the responsibilities of citizen watchdogs, summarize strategies for combatting confirmation bias and responsibly consuming and sharing news and information, and complete a culminating essay.

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