Part of Lesson Plan: Personal and Media Bias
Activity Overview / Details
What is media?
Although we usually use the word media to describe the mass media, it is actually just the plural form of the world "medium". A medium is anything that can be used to store or pass on information. When it comes to computers, we refer to CD-ROM's and pen drives as types of media.
Many types of media are used only for one-to-one communication (e.g. - phones, letters, faxes, emails, etc.). Mass media refers to things that are used to transfer information or ideas to a large group of people all at once. Examples include:
- Print media (books, newspapers, magazines, posters)
- Broadcast media (TV, radio)
- Internet media (web pages, message boards, blogs, podcasts, social networking sites)
- Other mass media (films, computer games)
Being careful with mass media
Whether we realize it or not, the mass media has a tremendous influence on our lives and especially on our thinking. It is like food for our mind and just like we can control the types of foods we eat, we can also control (to some extant) the ideas going into our brains. We can do this in two ways:
- One way is to be selective about what we let in. Just like we can avoid eating too much junk food, we can avoid watching too much "junk" on TV.
- A second way is to critically evaluate what does go into our minds. These days, it's hard to avoid the impact of mass media. However, we can learn to think for ourselves and not take everything we hear or see in the mass media as being automatically correct.
In other words, we should always remember that the mass media is not only a tool for passing on information, it is also a potentially dangerous tool! Just like a knife can be useful, it can also become dangerous when used improperly (either by mistake or on purpose). Therefore, in the same way that we are careful with knives, we should also be careful with the mass media.
Marshall McLuhan was a famous Canadian who studied the mass media and came up with the term "global village". He is also famous for saying, " the medium is the message." What do you think this means? (Remember that a medium is anything that can carry information/messages).
Answer: McLuhan is saying that the choice of medium affects how the information is presented and therefore affects the information itself. It's like the difference between drinking wine out of a crystal glass and drinking it out of a plastic one. Or the difference between reading a book or seeing it as a movie.
Being aware of media bias
People sometimes make when they think. (See: Correcting Mental Mistakes) The same sort of mistakes are also made by the mass media and therefore the impact of those mistakes can be even greater. Consider the following:
We prefer stories - Much of what we see on TV and in
films is, of course, stories. However, the types of stories
chosen often reflect the unscientific beliefs in our culture
(such as aliens, witches, or ghosts). This only reinforces the
idea that these types of things might actually be true.
Mental shortcuts - Whenever we take one small example
and apply it on a large scale, we are making a generalization
and stereotyping. Generalizations can often be dangerous and
unfortunately, the mass media often helps to reinforce common
generalizations and stereotypes
- We seek to confirm what we already believe - This mistake is made in the mass media most of all. In fact, there's a word that is used whenever we are one-sided in our presentation of the facts -- bias. Most of what we see in the mass media has some sort of bias to it (ie. it supports one particular view over another). If we are unaware of this, we might end up accepting other people's opinions, thinking that they are facts.
What would you say is the difference between a fact and an opinion?
A fact is something that can be shown to be true either by direct observation or by referring to a reliable source (e.g. - there are fifteen desks in this classroom). An opinion, on the other hand, is one person's personal feeling about something and therefore cannot be shown to be either true or false (e.g. - the desk by the window is the best seat in the room). [Have students give more examples]
When we are looking only at facts, we are being unbiased (or objective). If we are considering opinions, we are being biased (or subjective).
In life, it is impossible to be objective and unbiased all the time. Therefore, we should not be surprised to see bias in the mass media. The important thing is to realize that the biases are there so that we can either balance them in our own mind or balance them by accessing many different sources, all with different biases.
There are many different types of bias. These can include: racial, ethnic, religious, nationalistic, class, corporate, cultural, political, sensationalist, gender, etc. [ give examples of each ]. We should also be aware that sometimes statistics (which claim to be facts) can even be biased.
Can you think of news media that carry a certain bias or ideological slant? Have students identify some news sources (e.g., national papers or TV outlets). Can they detect a bias in the way that news is reported? Can they find a specific example?
Distribute: How to Detect Bias in the News Handout
In order to give students an idea of how the choice of words and phrases can influence our perception of a story, consider the following sentences:
More than 900 people attended the event.
Fewer than 1,000 people showed up at the event.
Both are accurate descriptions of the attendance at a meeting. The first gives the reader the impression that the event was successful, with more people than expected attending. The second sentence implies fewer people than expected showed up. A neutral way to describe the attendance would have been: "About 950 people attended the event."
Have students compare two front pages that appeared on the same day in two different newspapers.
Have groups discuss and answer the following questions:
Compare front pages. Which stories are on both front pages? Which are only on one front page?
What feelings or impressions do you get from the different front pages?
Compare headlines for the same story in the two papers. How do the headlines differ in tone and implication? How do the headlines influence the way one could read the story?
Compare photographs connected with the same story in the two newspapers. In what ways are the photos similar or different? What do the photos suggest about the story?
What are some ways you see that headlines and photographs affect interpretations of
Front Pages from Around the World
Finding a variety of newspaper front pages is easy on the website of the Newseum , an interactive museum in Washington, D.C. devoted to the news and a free press. You can download front pages from over 400 newspapers in 47 countries; the “map view” helps you locate your own local newspaper as well as cities near and far. However, as smaller cities often focus on their local area news, check major city newspapers to find different treatments of the same national or international stories. Pages print out 8 1/2 x 11. http://www.newseum.org/
Present findings to the class. Have them identify specific words that create a value judgement. Have them describe the article context (i.e., editorial, news, entertainment, etc.).
For bonus marks, send students on a bias scavenger hunt. Give them one week to see if they can find current examples for each of the techniques listed in How to Detect Bias in the News.
A Free and Open Press: Evaluating the
Also see attached: A Free and Open Press
Media Bias and Gatekeeping
Also see attached: Media Bias and Gatekeeping
Related Lesson Plans
The Media Awareness Network
NewsHour Extra: Advertising Lesson Plan
NewsHour Extra: Media Smarts, News and Marketing
NewsHour Extra: To Report or Not to Report
Newsweek Education Program
Center for Media Literacy
News and Journalism
Columbia Journalism Review
Fred Friendly Seminars
World Press Review
Regulation and Ownership
Federal Communications Commission
Online NewsHour Merging Media
Materials / Resource
- Assessment Types:
- Projects, Writing Samples, Demonstrations,
Implicit Association Test 25 pts
Mapping Personal Bias 25 pts
What Difference Does a Name Make? 50 pts
Comparing Headlines 25 pts
The World in 22 Minutes Report 25 pts
Total 150 pts