News Goggles: ‘Could not be reached for comment’: Fairness and balance in the Missouri Independent

Grades: 7-9, 10-12+

News Goggles annotations and activities offer news literacy takeaways on timely topics. These resources feature examples of actual news coverage, including full news reports, headlines, breaking news alerts or excerpts.  

This News Goggles resource originally appeared in a previous issue of The Sift newsletter for educators, which explores timely examples of misinformation, addresses journalism and press freedom topics and examines social media trends and issues. Read archives of the newsletter and subscribe here. 

Fairness and balance are key standards of quality journalism. Being fair includes reaching out to main sources or subjects in news coverage to allow them to share their points of view and respond to any claims or allegations. Balance is representing all relevant sides of an issue without giving one side undue weight or legitimacy.

In this edition of News Goggles, let’s consider fairness and balance as we examine a Dec. 3, 2020, news article (PDF here) about a jail closure in Missouri following a COVID-19 outbreak, as reported by the nonprofit news organization the Missouri Independent. What does it mean if someone “could not be reached for comment”? How do journalists report stories when a key source is unavailable or unwilling to share their perspective publicly? Grab your news goggles. Let’s go!

 Featured News Goggles resource: These classroom-ready slides offer annotations and discussion questions related to this  topic.

Discuss: Is this article fair in its reporting? What steps should reporters take to try and reach a source on deadline? How should a journalist handle unsuccessful efforts to contact a source in a story? If journalists had been able to reach local sheriff’s officials, what questions should they have asked? Is this report balanced? Are any relevant perspectives or voices missing? If a key source responds to a reporter after a story is published, what could the journalists do in response?

Related:“Opinion: RNC blasts Politico over Michigan election story” (Erik Wemple, The Washington Post).

Resource:“Practicing Quality Journalism” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom). 

Have feedback about this resource? Or an idea for a future News Goggles? Please share it with us at thesift@newslit.org. You can also use this guide for a full list of News Goggles from the 2020-21 school year for easy reference. 


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