How stories in the news can help you in your teaching

What do Anthony Weiner, Rupurt Murdoch and Daniel Radcliffe have in common?

All provide helpful examples for use in media classes.

The recent stories about these three can be excellent for promoting discussion in class and connecting current events with media issues that your course includes. I’m going to talk about those stories, but stories in the news apply across the curriculum.

  • The debate in Texas about teaching evolution in the schools ties to biology.
  • The stories of governmental debates worldwide about alternative energy sources can be used in physics and engineering as well as environmental studies classes.
  • The debate on the US debt ceiling and the financial crises in countries like Ireland and Greece provide real-world connections to concepts studied in economics.

Now, back to including Weiner, Murdoch and Radcliffe in your media class.

Anthony Weiner provides the lesson of the potential perils of social media use.

Weiner’s story began with a risqué photo of himself that he sent through Twitter, which wound up going to more than just the woman (not his wife) he thought he was contacting. His situation reveals (so to speak) the problems that social media can cause when used to share photos or information that would be considered problematic if seen by others beside the intended recipients.

This is a great example to use in my introductory media writing class where we are encouraging students to use social media but to be aware that what they have been considering as communicating with their friends through Twitter and Facebook can become a problem if seen by others – such as teachers or potential employers.

Weiner was considered very technology savvy, but even he wound up pressing the wrong button. And once that image is sent, there’s no taking it back.

Rupurt Murdoch and the News of the World provide a number of possible lessons, especially for media ethics classes.

The story continues to evolve at the time of this posting – starting with the discovery that Murcoch-owned News of the World had hacked phones in its quest for publishable information about murder victims and politicians.

One class discussion can deal with how the public’s right to know balances with the rights of individuals – alive or deceased.

Another discussion issue is how involved should the media and governmental leaders be. In the US, we consider the media to play an important role as a watchdog of the governmental process and as a source of information to help promote an informed citizenry.

But what happens when the media, as the News of the World, considers itself to have the ability to control the government?

Daniel Radcliffe provides the example of the importance of taking the initiative and planning the timing of bad news.

Radcliffe, the star of the Harry Potter movie series, announced in an interview in the British GQ Magazine that he had a drinking problem in 2009 during the filming of the one Harry Potter movies.

He took a proactive approach by making the announcement with any apparent threat of his drinking being revealed. He talked about his drinking and how he is addressing the problem — by living a “quiet life.” That admission both takes away any momentum from someone who might have been able to reveal his drinking and also helped explain why Radcliffe has not attended some of the celebration parties and events for the opening of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.”

And the timing of his acknowledgement is brilliant, as they say in the Harry Potter movies. The story broke in the news on July 4, a time when most in the US were involved in July 4th holiday celebrations. And with the last Harry Potter movie opening in just two weeks, the focus was on Radcliffe and the movie’s opening — and not his past. He also was able to say that he had not had alcohol for almost a year.

Using current examples is an effective way of helping your students connect concepts studied in class to the reality of everyday life. Sometimes you can raise a current events topic in class and move into discussion, but some preparation (yours and the students) may lead to better class discussions.

We as teachers need to remember that not all of our students may be following the same news we are. So it’s important to provide a context — or better yet, have the students read the stories themselves — before discussing the topics.

* You could provide links to news stories online for the class to read as homework before the class discussion.

* You could assign students to groups and have each group assigned to reading different media presentations of the same story to show how different media present the story and/or how the story evolved over the days/weeks/months of coverage. Each group could meet during class to discuss their insights on their reading, and then the groups would report to the class.

* Providing the students with issues to be looking for in their reading can help them focus on the points you want to come out in class discussion.

Thanks to the Internet, we can retrieve a wealth of those news-event examples to use in class. I can remember teaching in the World Before Internet (WBI) and reading the newspaper with scissors in hand so I could clip out a story and then make copies to distribute in class. If I let a newspaper or magazine get recycled, then the story was gone. Now with an Internet search, the story is there to use in class and have students read for themselves.

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