The New World of Citizen Journalism

I had the opportunity to visit Mohawk College’s Journalism program recently. It’s very impressive.  I learned that the job of “reporter” has changed dramatically in the last 5-10 years. A reporter for a newspaper is no-longer primarily a writer. A reporter is expected to be a one person multimedia producing, cross-platform writing,  social networker. It’s very exciting and the students at Mohawk were learning every aspect of the business. Which leads me, funnily enough, to the debate over vaccines. 

On  February 5th, The Toronto Star’s front page cried out, “A Wonder Drug’s Dark Side”. What followed was a long story that as The Star’s publisher was subsequently forced to admit, “led many readers to conclude The Star believed its investigation had uncovered a direct connection between a large variety of ailments and the vaccine”. That quote is from the disclaimer that now appears on The Star’s website where the article used to be found. The Star has “unpublished” the original story.

The flaws in the original story were laid out in an LA Times report on the controversy: “How A Major Newspaper Bungled A Vaccine Story and Then Smeared Its Critics“.

 

In Our Classes

From an English class point of view this is rich material. 

  1. What a great opportunity to discuss research and bias. This blog post by Dr. Jen Gunter –Autopsy of Toronto Star HPV article and the real dark side of Gardasil they missed –is a terrific example of a persuasive research based essay. It’s a masterful example of effective organization and word choice. I especially like her title and its invitation to readers to discover the “real dark side”.
  2. The controversy is a terrific opportunity for students to examine the specific curriculum expectations of “critical literacy” and “production perspectives”. Gunter’s blog post highlights the need for readers to consider motivation and conflicts of interest when reading. This idea for a “Two Sides to the Story?” – research assignment uses the issue of “false balance” to teach the curriculum expectations of critical literacy and production perspectives.
  3. Finally, back to the students at Mohawk College. This story is a fascinating example of the shift in power caused by the Internet. 10 years ago the front page story written by The Star’s professional journalists might have been challenged by a few letters to the editor, perhaps The Star would have chosen to publish this rebuttal – “Science shows HPV vaccine has no dark side” –by Canadian scientists. But the debate would have happened entirely within the newspaper and would have been controlled by the newspaper.  As the publisher’s very defensive retraction proves, The Star does not back down easily. Today, the Internet provides a platform that democratizes voices. This story is a great opportunity to challenge students to consider these curriculum based issues:
    1. Confirmation bias;
    2. How to corroborate sources;
    3. Why we site sources in our research;
    4. Language usage – is Dr. Gunter’s critique of the language used in The Star’s retraction fair?
    5. False Balance” in news reporting (as comically represented by John Oliver as it relates to Climate Change – warning PG-13 for language – start at 1:08 to avoid profanity).

Stream of Consciousness on Racism in Canada

Watching an old movie with my daughter led me down a stream of consciousness about race and culture and prejudice that reminded me of some texts that could be useful in the teaching of character analysis or persuasive writing.
I was watching the old John Grisham film A Time To Kill with my daughter. In the film, newly minted Klu Klux Klan followers plant a burning cross on the lawn of a lawyer defending a black man. My daughter asked a very sensible question, that I’d never processed before, she wondered how a burning cross became a symbol for white power.

This led to a Google search which led to a Wikipedia article and the uncomfortable discovery that the most recent example of a racist cross burning mentioned in Wikipedia happened in Nova Scotia in 2010.

That story reminded me of a terrific Radio Lab podcast about a young woman who rejected her family’s imposed identity (her mother’s birth certificate listed her as “negro”) and adopted a new identity for herself as a white woman in a high school full of racial tension.
And finally, that story reminded me of a pair of articles from last month about racism in Winnipeg.
None of these texts are particularly uplifting, but all challenge us to confront our stereotypes and prejudices.

As part of an examination of the depiction of character traits or an analysis of the inner conflicts faced by characters in short stories or novels I wonder if these stories / articles might provide some interesting fodder for discussion.

Ally’s Choice – Radio Lab podcast about racial divides in a family. The Radio Lab podcast challenges the scientific validity of the concept of race.

These two articles consider the reality of prejudice and injustice in Canada towards First Nations people: Winnipeg the Most Racist City in Canada and a rebuttal, Is Our City the Most Racist In Canada?

These could also be useful as part of a study of persuasive writing. Students could consider the reporters’ attempts to create a convincing arguments to support ideas.

Goal Setting – "15 High Performance Habits"

We’re past the “New Year’s Resolution” time of the year, but isn’t a new semester an equally appropriate time to offer students a chance to “reboot” their approach to school?  This article and activity is intended to foster those conversations:

Lesson Plan Idea & Article

“A New Semester – How Will You Make It Your Best One Ever?” –  http://goo.gl/HVqCtP the activity asks the students to read and reflect on the article:  “15 High Performance Habits That Will Make You Successful” – from Lifehack.org

Classroom Community Building & News Report Writing

The start of a new semester is a time to think hard about the classroom communities we’re building for our students. The following activity uses a list of 50 questions to get to know someone by Andrew Tarvin as an excuse to bring students together for conversations. I think it’s fun, because not only do they have a chance to talk about themselves (generally an opportunity adolescents embrace) but also we can use the list to think about the kinds of questions that are appropriate in different situations.

Character Analysis

Later in the term, these questions can be revisited as we consider characters in texts and perhaps analyze how fully realized a fictional character is based on how well we could answer these questions about a character from a short story or novel.

Small Talk & OSSLT Prep

Also, as an option for grade 9 / 10 classes, the task branches off into New Report writing as a prelude to instruction for the OSSLT.

Lesson Plan & Worksheets

Building Classroom Community – Rapid Interviews

50 Questions & News Writing Worksheet

This is interesting… – organizer