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Friend, Enemy, or Frenemy? The News Literacy Challenge

Welcome to Day 3 of the News Literacy Challenge!

There is a tendency to believe that the news reflects reality and that journalists report the news objectively. The news, however, is made up of stories, produced for particular purposes and for specific audiences and often for profit. News stories, like all media, are constructions and thus represent the many different choices that go into the making of the news and the many different influences and constraints that affect which stories get told and how those stories are told.

The construction of news stories is determined and influenced by individual people, organizations, and the cultures in which they are produced.

PEOPLE construct the news by:

People who make the news include producers, journalists and reporters, story editors, photographers and camera people, audio and video editors, TV anchors, and pundits. These individuals make choices based on their training, interests, routines, social environments, and their personal bias. They also are influenced and constrained by journalistic traditions and norms, the organizations they work for, and the mediums (print, radio, TV, digital) they work within. Choices are made by everyone in the production of a news story from the reporter deciding who to interview and which questions to ask to the photographer deciding what to include and exclude from their frame.

ORGANIZATIONS construct the news by:

As any news consumer knows, there are many different outlets to get the news from. Every news organization has its own policies, agendas, and audiences. Some news organizations operate as for-profit businesses, relying on advertisers and subscriptions, while others are not-for-profit or government-funded organizations. However, the ownership of national and local news organizations in the U.S. has become highly concentrated among a small number of corporations and individuals, resulting in less variety of perspectives and more competition for audiences and advertisers. Traditionally, news organizations have maintained a separation between their corporate interests and editorial interests, but sometimes those interests conflict. As well, news organizations rely on access to sources of information, including the government, which may also influence the news.

CULTURE constructs the news by:

  • How we tell stories, such as:
    • Traditional narratives (Us vs. Them, Humans vs. Nature)
    • Emotional appeals
    • Media forms (print, audio, video, digital)
  • Traditions, norms, and values, such as:

While the news functions to construct our understanding of cultural norms and values—as we learned on Day One of the challenge—the news is also constructed by culture.

The most obvious way that culture constructs the news is through traditional storytelling conventions and conflicts, like us vs. them, humans vs. nature, and the political left vs. the political right. Remember that news is a story! News stories appeal to our hopes and fears and to our sense of justice, patriotism, and moral outrage. News stories are also shaped by the different media forms in which we produce them, such as print magazines and newspapers, broadcast media, and online platforms.

Our society’s changing attitudes towards race, gender, and class are reflected in news media, influencing the kinds of stories we tell and whose voices are heard in the news. Political values, as well, affect the news, which is especially apparent during a presidential election. And, of course, our desire for sensational stories and headlines shapes news production, often turning the news into entertainment.

Your Challenge: Select and Share a News Story that Reflects Ways in Which People, Organizations, or Culture Construct the News

The discussion board is now closed (The News Literacy Challenge took place October 26-30, 2020). However, we encourage you to scroll through the responses and reflect on your own answers to the questions below!

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Further Reading

To learn more about the construction of news media, we recommend On the Media’s Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook, a series of short podcast segments and guidelines that explore these issues and more.

In addition, there are various c
odes of ethics and standards of practice for journalists and journalism educators. Search online, for example, for guiding principle documents and editorial guidelines associated with NPR, LA Times, NY Times, the Associated Press, and other news organizations that you consult. The Society for Professional Journalists has a code of ethics that all members are expected to adhere to, which includes four key goals:

  • seek truth and report it;
  • minimize harm;
  • act independently;
  • and be accountable and transparent.

Way to go! You're halfway through the Challenge!

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