Noticing the Construction of Reality in Headlines
Related human rights
Equal opportunities, gender equality, anti-discrimination regarding social status, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, religious beliefs, race, etc.
To prepare the theoretical presentation – the criteria of the value of news, be able to explain them, also pick relevant headline examples, prepare to interpret them together with peers.
Criteria of the news value
Being related to the current topic
Peer educator introduces the criteria of the value of the news, explaining the following:
Not all information from our environment ends up and can get into the news on the media – journalists and editors selecting information follow the criteria of the value of the media news.
The first criterion is novelty – the audience will receive the news only about events, which are new, taking place here and now. Events that took place earlier can also be regarded as new if the society has not been informed about them earlier even if they were significant.
Another important criterion is proximity, which could be interpreted in various ways. First of all, the geographic proximity – our audience will be more likely to be informed on events taking place in our own country, rather than in Burma or Australia. Second, civic or cultural proximity – we are very likely to be informed about a citizen of our country injured or acknowledged in some part of the world, or some person/initiative that is culturally relevant. The issue of proximity is that narrow interpretation (‘my audience is interested only in what happens around it’) may create a taste of provincialism, which means inability to see a wider perspective in the increasingly global world.
The criterion of significance/effect helps to highlight events, which touch a large share of the audience, making a significant impact on people’s lives. Narrow interpretation creates a danger of focusing only on emotions or events that appeal to horror (catastrophes, which involve hundreds of victims), but in truth this criterion of the value of the news should help select important news on political or business decisions, which influence or even change people’s daily lives.
The criterion of fame encourages journalists to follow cultural, public, political and business figures that are interesting to the society and form the societal development trends.
Conflicts are important, because the entire civilisation history is made of conflicts, and often the outcome of these conflicts influence the public progress or regress (e.g. women’s fighting for a right to vote and non-discrimination, workers’ strikes for an 8-hour workday, etc.). Conflict interpretation could be narrow, picking only the negative news that have no development opportunities.
The criterion of being unusual is necessary to draw attention to what stands out from the general context of our lives. This stimulates curiosity, analysis and perception skills. Under narrow interpretation, the criterion of being unusual could turn into creating sensations and fake news in commercialised media.
The criterion of continuity obliges journalists to follow the processes that are significant to the society, informing the public on any changes.
The criterion of being related to the current topic obliges journalists to provide a wider context of an event, featuring its pre-history and predictions for further development.
Hitting more of the criteria of the value of the news means that journalists will be more likely to report the event to the public. The news value usually can be seen in the headline.
Now the participants must be invited to assess the news headlines and see what criteria of the value of the news could be recognised.
Possible examples (you can pick others):
Dark-skinned Men Left a Suspicious Suitcase in Jonava
Underaged Mulatto Engaged in a Chain of Robberies in Kaunas
The Decision Regarding Joachimas Lelevelis School, defended by the Poles, Is Planned for November
A Gay Man Did Not Attend the Baltic Pride: We Don’t Need Any Special Rights
Gay Parade in Riga Centre
Hottest Moments from the Homosexual Parade in Vilnius – DELFI.TV Video
Teaching a Lesson to the Lazy and Drunkards with Public Works
To sum up the activity, you can discuss the following questions:
1) Does the media reflect or construct the reality? Why?
2) How could a narrow understanding of the criterion of the value of the news affect headlines and the public opinion?
3) How often does the media construct the ‘other’? Why? What criteria of the value of the news are used?
4) What is the ‘us’ and ‘not us’ in the headlines? What impact does it have on the society in understanding the issues of the sensitive social groups?
Further suggestions, additional material
You can narrow down the discussion and talk about a single aspect of the media construction (examples of only gender construction, only race construction or only ethnicity construction on headlines).
Other ways of using the material by peer educators
You can discuss only the effect of the media and analyse only the construction of the ‘other’ on the headlines.
You can create an exercise by asking your peers to find examples of narrow and wide interpretation of the criteria.