At a Glance
LanguageEnglish — US
- Civics & Citizenship
- Social Studies
DurationOne 50-min class period
- Democracy & Civic Engagement
About This Lesson
Bias can have a significant influence on the way we as individuals and as a community respond to troubling events that are complicated by the racial identities of the people involved. Recognizing and seeking to limit the power and inevitability of human bias is not only an indispensable component of producing quality journalism, it is also a critical skill for consumers and sharers of news and information.
This lesson begins with students experiencing firsthand the challenges of producing neutral reporting by writing a “straight news” account based on a short video. This activity is followed by a video of journalists talking about their strategies for minimizing the influence of bias in their work.
- How do biases and stereotypes influence the way we interpret the world around us?
- How can both journalists and media consumers address issues of bias in themselves and others?
- Students will be able to understand the standards of quality journalism that are designed to minimize the influence of individual and group biases.
- Students will be able to recognize how biases affect the way people perceive the world around them, including the information they encounter.
- Students will be able to identify some of the challenges of dispassionate, “objective” reporting.
This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-min class period and includes:
- 3 activities
- 2 videos
- 1 handout
When discussing the video “How Journalists Minimize Bias” with students, in Activity 2, it is useful to keep the following three points in mind:
- All information is not created equal. Just because absolute neutrality or objectivity is impossible to achieve does not mean that all information is equally flawed and biased. While it can be problematic to endorse one source of credible information over another for students, it is essential that we help them develop the ability to make these determinations in a thoughtful manner for themselves.
- Perceptions of bias are, themselves, highly subjective. Due to confirmation bias, people commonly perceive opposing biases in the same piece of information. For example, the same image or news report might prompt accusations of bias from a range of positions on the political spectrum. (We will explore one such example later in the unit.)
- Be wary of cynicism and assumptions about the motives of journalists. Conversations about media bias often devolve into an exchange of cynical assumptions about “the media.” These assumptions frequently include the notion that media bias is almost always overt and systematic (to advance a specific agenda) rather than perceived and incidental. While the journalistic standard of neutrality or “objectivity” is almost certainly impossible to perfectly achieve in any given news report (and impossible for any of us, with our biases, to identify as objective even if it were possible), bias can be minimized through journalistic standards and practices such as those described in the video.
In this exercise, students will step into a journalist’s shoes and try to write a neutral report of an incident featured in the short film “The Lunch Date”. (Note: Make sure to stop the film at the 7:23 mark, when the white woman is walking to her train.)
- Tell students that they are going to act as journalists and write a straight news report based on the film they are about to see. The primary purpose of “straight news” is to inform the audience without seeking to persuade. It should include all relevant facts, context, and information available at the time. Straight news should give the reader enough information and relevant points of view to make up his or her own mind about the topic or issue.
- Tell students to record their observations in their journals or notebooks as they watch. You may want to first brainstorm the kinds of information and details students should aim to record.
- Play the video. Stop the video at 7:23 and ask students to use their notes to write a two- to three-paragraph straight news report describing what happened in as much detail as possible. When they are finished, students should give the piece a headline that they feel captures the essence of the events they observed. The goal of the writing is not to create a polished piece but to attempt a fair and accurate description of the observed events.
- When students have finished writing, have them work in pairs or small groups to share their accounts. Have the groups consider these questions: What is similar in each account? What is different? What facts were used to back up each account? Which statements or observations reflect opinions or generalizations? Provide students with the F.O.G. Analysis graphic organizer and ask them to identify and record the Facts, Opinions, and Generalizations in their news reports.
- Reconvene as a class. Discuss these questions: What do we know (or think we know) about the events—and how do we know this? What assumptions did we make? Can we identify any examples of where confirmation bias may have been at play?
- Play the final few minutes of the video before the credits.
- Did the film end as students expected? Why or why not? Do they want to revise their earlier reports and their F.O.G. analyses? How would they change their reports? How did their reports speak to the issue of confirmation bias?
- How might the woman’s biases and stereotypes have influenced the way she responded to the various African American men she encountered throughout the film?
- How did the African American man in the restaurant respond to the woman’s mistake? Why would the director give the man that reaction? Why do you think the woman laughs? What do the final minutes suggest about the power of stereotypes?
- What do students think this activity reveals about the challenge of overcoming confirmation bias as we consume news and information? What other challenges does it reveal? (Much of this will be further explored in later lessons.)
In the previous lesson, we explored a range of biases, including implicit, explicit, and confirmation bias. Journalists generally understand that they need to work to minimize the impact of bias on their reporting. Screen the video “How Journalists Minimize Bias”, which features editors and reporters talking about how bias affects the work they do.
- As students watch, ask them to make note of journalists’ and editors’ opinions about how bias affects their work and the different strategies they use to counteract bias.
- After the video, ask students what they heard. How did the anecdotes shared by the journalists connect to things students already knew? How did the video challenge or extend their thinking? What did they notice about the ways the journalists talked about bias? What strategies did the journalists use in their efforts to be neutral and fair in their reporting? What, if any, strategies would students suggest that were not mentioned?
- As a wrap-up for the first four lessons, and before we dive into the “information aftermath” of Ferguson in depth, review what has been covered so far, including:
- how identity influences the way we respond to individuals, issues, and events;
- how confirmation and other biases cause us to cling to our beliefs in the face of information that refutes them; and
- how journalists and news organizations strive to combat bias in their reporting.
- Emphasize three key points that affect how we process information:
- Most people have a tendency to seek evidence that affirms their existing ideas and beliefs and to avoid or ignore information that contradicts them—particularly ideas and beliefs to which they have a strong emotional connection.
- When our focus and attention are limited, we miss important things.
- We are all susceptible to “reasoning in reverse”—in other words, we use our rational minds to come up with as much evidence as possible that confirms our existing emotions, ideas, and beliefs about a given subject.
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How Journalists Minimize Bias
Confirmation and Other Biases
Verifying Breaking News
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