Newsworthiness is a key concept in news literacy. With so many stories competing for attention, journalists must determine which events and issues to cover, and how prominently. This week, we talk to Miguel Otárola of Colorado Public Radio about how he decides which story ideas to pursue in his role covering climate and the environment.
Otárola offers insights for his story on restoring forests after wildfires — which also recently aired on the NPR and WBUR show Here & Now — as we discuss news judgment, how journalists select quotes for news reports and the importance of presenting information in context. Grab your news goggles!
Dig deeper: Use this viewing guide for the featured News Goggles video as students consider what makes a topic newsworthy and why information should be presented in context.
Reflect on the decline of local news in this special issue of The Washington Post Magazine and consider what communities lose when the news organizations that serve them shutter. Stories in this issue come from news deserts — areas where there is little or no local news coverage — and underscore what’s “in danger of being lost” as newsrooms shrink and news outlets fold. “It’s not just watchdog journalism that suffers,” Margaret Sullivan writes in the issue’s introduction. “The decline affects civic engagement and political polarization, too.”
Idea: Ask students to read one of the stories featured in this issue. What makes the story newsworthy (timely, important, interesting and unique)? How might communities suffer when stories like these go untold?
Another idea: Connect with a local journalist using NLP’s Newsroom to Classroom volunteer directory and discuss changes they’ve seen in the local news industry. How have these changes impacted news coverage? What subjects and news stories go uncovered when a newsroom’s resources shrink? How do journalists decide which stories to prioritize? How does original reporting on local matters of public interest benefit communities?
News consumers often make negative assumptions about how news organizations decide what stories to cover — in part because the public lacks access to details about how these decisions are made. Trusting News, a research and training project aimed at helping journalists demonstrate credibility and earn trust, worked with WCPO-TV, an ABC affiliate in Cincinnati, to invite people who mistrust “the media” to attend a news meeting — and witness how news judgments are actually made. It found that more than half of participants had “a more favorable and trustworthy view” of the news organization after the experience.
Idea: Contact a local newsroom — or use the Newsroom to Classroom program — and connect with a journalist to discuss how news judgments are made in their newsroom. In advance of the conversation, have students journal about how they think these decisions are made, then ask them to reflect on what they learned afterward.
Discuss: How do the groups cited in this report use cute animal videos and other types of innocuous, heartwarming content to “redirect” people to misinformation? Why might this tactic be effective? Can social media platforms do anything to prevent this technique from being used to amplify harmful falsehoods?
NO: Merriam-Webster did not change the definition of the word “vaccine” as a strategic cover-up for the less-than-perfect efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines. YES: Merriam-Webster revised its definition of “vaccine” in 2021 to be more scientifically accurate and account for mRNA technology. NO: The edits did not simply remove references to immunity. YES: The updates resulted in a significantly more extensive and detailed definition (see graphic below).
A graphic showing screenshots of three versions of the definition for “vaccine” in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary in 2021 from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The old definition that included a reference to increased “immunity” appears in the archive until Jan. 26, 2021. The current definition (as of Dec. 3, 2021) was online by June 1, 2021. Click on the graphic to view a larger version of this image.
NewsLit takeaway: Misleading claims about changed definitions have circulated before, including about the pandemic, and often contain ambiguous conspiratorial overtones. In May 2021, the Russian state propaganda “news” outlet RT (Russia Today) falsely claimed that Merriam-Webster had changed its definition of “anti-vaxxer” in a strategic attempt “to fit a narrative” concerning vaccine mandates. This recent rumor about the definition of “vaccine” falsely suggests that there are powerful entities interested in covering up information about the efficacy (which is demonstrated) of COVID-19 vaccines.
NO: This is not a photo of November 2021 protests against new COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates in Austria. YES: It is a 1991 photo of a much larger estimated crowd of 500,000 protesters outside the Kremlin in Moscow, in the former Soviet Union, demanding that then-President Mikhail Gorbachev and his Communist government step down. YES: As many as 40,000 people marched through Vienna on Nov. 20 in opposition to a new COVID-19 lockdown measure and a vaccine mandate for adults. NO: This isn’t the first time this photo has been used out of context to exaggerate the size of protest crowds.
NewsLit takeaway: Photos of large crowds are often used out of context (see here, here, here and here) to exaggerate the public’s response to a given news event or cause. In fact, this is such a common tactic that it has become a satirical misinformation meme online. Similar to astroturfing campaigns, these tricks of context distort perceptions of public sentiment in an effort to manipulate others.
NO: The athletes shown collapsing in this video montage are not experiencing side effects of COVID-19 vaccines. YES: The clips show players and referees in various sports collapsing for different reasons, including dehydration, heat exhaustion and, in one case, a soccer player (who was unvaccinated at the time) in cardiac arrest. YES: Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, is an extremely rare and treatable side effect of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines among young people. YES: Myocarditis also can be caused by COVID-19 itself.
NewsLit takeaway: Creating collections of out-of-context headlines, images and video clips, especially those that evoke a strong emotional response, is a common disinformation tactic. These “evidence collages” are often used to manipulate public sentiment about a subject. In this case, a selective montage of athletes collapsing is designed to mislead the viewer into falsely believing there has been a sharp increase in such incidents that coincides with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
CNN anchor Chris Cuomo was fired by the network following ongoing revelations about the extent of his efforts to help his brother — former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — respond to allegations of sexual harassment, including by asking contacts at other news organizations “about yet-to-be-published” reporting. (For more on journalism ethics, see this News Goggles resource on previous conflict of interest concerns related to Chris Cuomo's news coverage of his brother.)
A new report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism examines how journalists increasingly walk a “Twitter tightrope” in their work and digs into newsroom social media policies and the risks that journalists — especially women and journalists of color — face in using these platforms.
Demand for bags of “magic dirt” sold as part of a miracle cure multilevel marketing ploy skyrocketed during the pandemic before crackdowns from health regulators and criticism from online skeptics helped shut it down.
Mark Hayes of the Atlanta Daily World — the city’s oldest Black newspaper — recently reflected on news coverage of the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial and said removing emotion from “our coverage almost does our community a disservice.”