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Making “News” In Your Classroom

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Teaching students to become critical consumers of news media has always been important, but even more so today with the sound of war looming. Not only is this prospect frightening for many young people, they (along with many adults!) also don’t have the tools required to discover the complete details.

Most students live in homes where the evening news and possibly a newspaper are ßthe main source of information. But popular news media is always under economic pressure to deliver news that will attract readers and viewers, and thus creating an audience they can deliver to advertisers. When a major supermarket calls your local paper to place a huge two-page ad, the “insignificant” story that was going to get printed is suddenly dropped, or edited to a tiny fraction of what it once was. This priority puts the delivery of timely information in second place.

Once again the Internet levels the playing field. If you know where to look, the ‘Net has the ability grant access to many of the same “raw” news sources used by mainstream media. By teaching students to find facts themselves, we offer them a sense of control and greater ability to make their own decisions about world situations.

So how can you get the facts and opinions you can’t find in your local media? There is no secret to reporting the news. Most journalist use the Internet and even other competing news sources forgathering information, which explains why every television newsroom I’ve seen has a local daily paper on someone’s desk. You can put those same tools to work in your classroom, and help students come to their own conclusions.

As usual, the greatest problem with the Internet is becoming overwhelmed with all the resources available. So you may want to go after a limited perspective, or assign different groups in your class to the various topic headings below:

Information From Newsrooms Around The World

A good place to begin is with websites from the major news networks. CBS has a sizable section devoted to Iraq, including streaming video and a written transcript of Dan Rather’s recent interview with Saddam Hussein [http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/iraq/main500257.shtml]. NBC also has a focus page for Iraq [http://www.msnbc.com/news/attack_front.asp].

Consider other news organizations like Associated Press, one of the largest “wire services” in the world. AP allows local newspapers to have international news without the expense of sending their own reporters. To read all the news that AP offers, go to http://www.ap.org and at the home page click on “AP News” and then select your state. From there you will receive a listing of AP stories.

News organizations in other countries – along with their expected national bias – can provide revealing points of view. The BBC is the most prominent source of English language news in the world, and has a page devoted to Iraq [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/middle_east/2002/conflict_with_iraq/default.stm]. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation also operates news bureaus in many countries [http://www.cbc.ca/news/iraq/].

Wondering about the “other” ABC? For the down under perspective on Saddam, check the Australian Broadcasting Corporation [http://www.abc.net.au/news/indepth/iraq/].

For a list of virtually every other television network’s website, check the directory at http://www.tvradioworld.com, which lists all of the electronic media networks along with accompanying websites where available.

Probably the greatest source of regional viewpoints on the Internet belongs to the legion of newspapers that publish their writing via websites. Begin with the Internet Public Library’s newspaper section [http://www.ipl.org/div/news/]. From there you can link to some of the world’s largest and smallest papers. Obvious English language geographic choices for the subject we’re looking at would include:
The Iraqi News Agency [http://www.uruklink.net/iraqnews/eindex.htm]
The Islamic Republic News Agency [http://www.irna.com/en/]
The Tocqueville Connection (one of the few on-line papers from France written in English) [http://www.ttc.org/]
The Kuwait Times [http://www.kuwaittimes.net/today/local_news.shtml]

The Arabic al-Jezeera news network has gained a high public profile because it is often the means for which terrorists like Osama bin Laden have communicated to the world. Yet to use the site, you must have knowledge of Arabic. An alternative is http://www.cursor.org, which has English commentary on al Jazeera news content [http://www.cursor.org/aljazeera.htm]. Or you can try http://www.ajeeb.com, a site that will do a fair job of translating [http://tarjim.ajeeb.com/ajeeb/default.asp?lang=1] Arabic web pages into English and allow you to visit al-Jezeera directly.

Likewise, hundreds more newspapers and news sources are available in their native languages. To read them, you can try another machine translator, like the one found at “Babel Fish” [http://babelfish.altavista.com/babelfish/tr], which does a reasonable job translating most European languages in both directions.

Ask The Experts

One of the limitations of nearly every news reporter is time. Deadlines are always looming, and there isn't always time to complete the required research. Instead, they rely on experts from universities, think-thank organizations, and other groups. Using the Internet, you can have direct access to many of these organizations. Here are just a few that offer extensive commentary on the Iraq situation and related issues:

The Federation of American Scientists [www.fas.org] provides exhaustive details about various types of mass destruction weapons. Along with relatively easy to understand information about bombs and weapons, commentary from scientists enables readers (and hopefully politicians) to better understand the consequences of their use.

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) [http://www.isis-online.org], a non-profit, non-partisan institution, is “dedicated to informing the public about science and policy issues affecting international security.” Like the FAS, these scientists hope to bring about a significant reduction in the number of nuclear weapons around the world.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies [www.iiss.org] generates reports that are not only frequently used by media, but international leaders as well.

Just The Facts Ma’am

Raw facts are difficult to find, especially with this type of subject. Nearly every bit of information is subjective. However, here are two ideas you can check out.

For a true bird’s eye view of Iraq, check the incredible images from Digital Globe [http://www.digitalglobe.com/gallery/iraq/]. A word of caution – these satellite images are so detailed, they may take a long time to load into your computer on a dial-up connection. However, you’ll be able to see Saddam’s palaces and the streets of Baghdad yourself.

And if you've ever wondered what those weapon’s inspectors are looking for, read and view photographs of the details of The United Nations Special Commission, the official name of the weapons inspection program. [http://www.un.org/Depts/unscom/prespack-1.htm].

The Official Word

Finally, what are major governments saying about the crisis?

For the official position of the US Government, along with photos and complete details, check out this department of the White House web site [http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/iraq/index.html]. Other countries with official English comments from their leaders can be found as follows:
UK: http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page3109.asp
France: http://www.elysee.fr/actus/actu030310bang_.htm
Canada: http://pm.gc.ca/default.asp?Language=E&Page=newsroom&Sub=newsreleases&Doc=thisweek.20030309_e.htm
Iraq: http://www.uruklink.net/eindex.htm
Germany: http://eng.bundespraesident.de/frameset/index.jsp
China: http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/

Time To Make Some News

By now your “reporters” should be overflowing in information, but what can you do with it? Some ideas are creating a classroom newscast for radio or TV, a classroom newspaper, or simply use the information gathered to contrast with what we are reading and seeing in mainstream media. One exercise students really enjoy is discovering what the major networks and newspapers are choosing to ignore.

As is often the case, your students may discover what isn’t being said, is just as important as what is.

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About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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