But he also did something even more valuable than simply show kids how to manage data, itself a valuable skill in the 21st Century. He decided to have a lesson in spotting and deciphering media bias. Ferriter writes:
Then, I decided that one of the most important lessons that students can learn in today's digital news marketplace is that there is often downright overt hidden bias in reporting. Learning to judge the validity of online sources couldn't be any more important to promoting democracy, right?I think this particular set of lessons is invaluable.
So I put together a handout designed to introduce students to the idea that news sources may just be trying to influence readers to lean in one political direction or another.
What I figure I'll have students do is pick an article from two or three different news sources that cover the same event or topic---candidate performance in a debate, candidate position towards the war in Iraq or the current fiscal crisis, candidate gaffes or public miscues, McCain's age or Obama's inexperience---and evaluate the ways that each news source covers the topic.
By doing so, students will learn to identify the kinds of strategies that authors use to influence readers. They'll also recognize that not all news sources are as fair and balanced as they claim to be! Finally, they can learn the difference between reporting done by professionals working for traditional news outlets and "reporting" done by bloggers---an increasingly important source of information for today's citizen.
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have a particular slant and that I make no bones about it. But that is to be expected when someone comes to a personal blog. What is not expected is having such an obvious slant in a piece of "journalism," that is a news article that is supposed to report the news. Editorials are fine and I will support a newspaper's right to publish editorial until my last breath. But news articles are supposed to give me the facts. I don't need spin, bias, slant or selective quotations. I expect facts.
That Ferriter feels the need to look at news coverage and teach middle school students about media bias is on at least one level a little troubling.