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Public Opinion and Mass Media • Mass Media and Politics
Classroom Activities

Objective: Students will apply what they learn about media bias by writing their own news headlines.

Key Questions:

  • How does the media people consume impact their political views and, ultimately, public opinion?
  • Unlike such early forms of mass media as newspapers and radio, television and the Internet allow people today to see political figures speak and interact. In what ways do you think the introduction of these media forms changed the way we view and evaluate political figures or politics?

Notes on Implementation:

  • Extend the activity by having students write a TV or radio spot that reports the news in a biased manner.
  • Have students examine and evaluate news reports on a current issue. Suggest that they find two articles that illustrate different biases on the same issue. Lead a discussion: Can media bias be avoided? How can consumers of news media make sure they are not unduly influenced by the media?
  • Provide support to students by providing examples of biased headlines and/or opening sentences. Highlight examples of loaded language, including positive language such as "relief" or "free"; negative language such as "threaten" or "undermine"; and strong language that might be positive or negative depending on its use, such as "surprise" or "cooperate."

Student Activity: Students can access the activity below in the Public Opinion and Mass Media Topic Center within the American Government database.

Student Activity:

The media consists of a wide range of sources including newspapers, television, radio, the Internet, blogs, and more. The manner in which these sources approach and tell a story is known as media bias. In the United States, many political conservatives often accuse the media of having a liberal bias. Similarly, many liberals accuse the media of having a conservative bias. Independent studies of media bias have found mixed results, favoring bias in both directions.

In this activity, you will read about the influence of mass media on politics. Then, you will develop a media campaign to win voters over to your issue or candidate.

Resources:

Apply:

  1. Review the ABC-CLIO resources above to learn about the role of the media and media bias. Think about what contributes to media bias.
  2. Think about where you get your news. Make a list, noting the type of media (such as social media, television, radio, newspapers), as well as the specific media outlet itself (e.g., Instagram, Facebook, a television news network, etc.), if appropriate. List the most common sources in order, so that your primary source of news is at the top.
  3. Compare your list with a partner's list. Discuss why you like some outlets more than others. Is it because your friends use it? Is it because that media outlet is readily available on devices you use for other purposes, such as your phone or computer? Do you like this outlet because it has a point of view that is similar to yours? Talk also about how your lists may be different from those your parents might make or people in other parts of your state might make. If you are working by yourself, consider these questions on your own.
  4. You and your partner will now write about an issue. Flip a coin or use another random method to decide who will be "positive" and who will be "negative." If you are working alone, you will adopt both positions.
  5. Then choose one of the following scenarios, and imagine you are assigned to write a news article about it. Write a catchy headline for the article. If you are assigned the "positive" task, write a headline that portrays the scenario in a positive light. If you are assigned the "negative" task, write a headline that portrays the scenario in a negative light.
    • Congress takes longer than usual to review the budget proposed by the president.
    • The president hires several wealthy business people who supported his campaign to be his top aides during an economic slowdown.
    • The governor takes a long weekend at a busy time of year.
    • The state legislature passes a law to outlaw plastic straws.
  6. After you have written your headline, compare it with your partner's. How did you use language and images to communicate a positive or negative view? Do you think your headline or your partner's is more effective? Why? What does this illustrate about the power of the media?

ANSWER KEY:

Key Understandings:

  • Media, public opinion, and policy are interrelated in a democracy
  • The type of media a public consumes influences their understanding of policy and government action

Possible Answers for Activity:

Students should write headlines that demonstrate the assigned bias. Examples:

Event Positive Spin Negative Spin
Congress takes longer than usual to review the budget proposed by the president Congressional Scrutiny Makes Sure Americans Get the Best Bang for their Buck Gridlock Once More: Congress Stalls on President's Budget
The president hires wealthy business people who supported his campaign to be his top aides during an economic slowdown The President Hires Some of the Brightest Minds in Industry to Help Him Fix the Economy

As Times Get Tighter for Most Americans, the President Gives Wealthy Patrons Positions of Power

The governor takes a long weekend at a busy time of year The Governor Takes a Much-Needed Break Before Returning Rested and Ready

The Governor Fiddles While Rome Burns

The Governor Skips Town; Leaves a Mess for Others to Clean Up
The state legislature passes a law to outlaw plastic straws Much-Needed Legislation Shows a Little Change Can Go a Long Way The State Puts Pressure on Business and Industry with Misguided Policies Focused on Drinking Straws
ABC-CLIO

MLA Citation

"Mass Media and Politics." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com. Accessed 23 Aug. 2019.

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