In our first series on teaching kids how to start a newspaper we covered the role of media in a democracy. This week, we’ll learn how to teach kids the elements of a news story. All writing has to start with a topic. In the media, the topics to write about are specifically selected based on certain criteria. Let’s learn all about them, and how kids can find news in their local community – be it at school or in their neighbourhood.
See our other articles on this series below:
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (1): understanding the fundamentals of media
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (2): the elements of a news story
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (3): learning to write news copy (part 1)
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (3): learning to write news copy (part 2)
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (4): learning to research and identify sources of information
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (5): learning to critique the media and spot ‘fake news’
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (6): tips and resources for fact checking
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (7): covering magazines and feature stories
Teach kids how news stories are selected for publication
Selecting a news topic has to be influential to a publisher of a newspaper, who is balancing the interests of both advertisers and readers. Remember: newspapers are not a public service. They are businesses, and they have to make money. They make money through ads, which other businesses pay for.
After ad space is sold, the rest of the spots left in a newspaper’s page layout is where the news stories go. These are called the “newsholes.” The more people that are interested in, and read the news stories, the more exposure the advertiser gets (because their ads appear within a glancing distance of the news stories).
Now, if an advertiser has more exposure (i.e. more readership), they will theoretically pay more for their advertisement to appear in a newspaper. So the balance between advertiser interests and readership from really ‘hot’ stories has to be considered by the publisher and editor in chief of a newspaper. Ideally, these are separate roles, with their own goals. However, some may argue these objectives are often merged.
Nonetheless, if these two interests are not balanced, no one will pay the salaries of newspaper reporters! No salary means no job, which would mean no journalists in this case.
There is more to teach kids about the topic of advertising and bias in the news (including the ever-controversial, native advertising). However, we’ll leave advertising alone for now, and focus on what makes a news story.
Teach kids about what makes a story newsworthy
There is a reason that newspapers are not covering ‘the normal’ and ‘the everyday’ things in your life. And also a reason why media can make us think that the novel things are bigger than they actually are.
For example, when the Ebola disease broke out in West Africa, it made the news in a big way. Diseases are scary to think about, and so they attract a reader’s attention. And when only a handful of people got the disease in a Western country like the United States, it was also getting news coverage.
But did you know that other existing diseases are killing far, far more people than Ebola, by several times? Tuberculosis kills 1.5 million people each year. Ebola kills 8,000 people in 2014 (see linked-to article above). But why was Tuberculosis not covered in the news as much as Ebola? Because it’s not new.
Some can argue this method of news selection by the media can be problematic in influencing public opinion on matters. This is because the more something is covered by the news, the more prominent it can appear in people’s lives, even if it’s not.
This brings us back to teaching kids about the role of media, which we encourage you to review in our previous article, if you haven’t already.
Teaching kids about public relations and news generation
As we’ve seen above, picking news stories to go in a newspaper is all about selecting what will ‘sell’ readership. Public relations companies know this all too well. They specialize in ‘finding’ or ‘creating’ news stories for organizations who want media coverage.
To learn more about public relations and news generation, you can use lessons on Lynda.com:
These may be taught at advanced learning levels, but as a teacher, you can adapt the lessons to meet the needs of your younger students. Remember that Vancouver Public Library card holders can access Lynda.com now.
Teach kids the elements of a news story
But finding or creating news is not just a public relations tactic. Journalists are always on the lookout for specific types of happenings. They get paid to write the news, and so, they have to find the news. Journalists are not always assigned a story by an editor. In a lot of ways, journalists have to take action and be responsible for their own role within a newspaper. This is a great opportunity to teach kids about being proactive.
To find their own news, the student needs to learn what elements make up a news story. The below article by a public relations firm explains what types of stories can constitute a news report, or attract reporters:
We encourage you to teach these news elements to students. Give them an assignment to find something newsworthy happening around them. This can be what they write about in their first news pitch.
Ideas for news stories relevant to young kids in your classroom can include:
- A sports game at the school
- A community event (such as a local farmer’s market or once-a-year pumpkin patch)
- An impactful project another classroom is working on (like a recycling initiative, fundraiser, etc.)
- An uncommon human interest story of another student or teacher (such as a recent refugee journey, life in a wheelchair, etc.)
- An upcoming choir or theatre performance
- The purchase or inclusion of new technology at the school
- A new collection of books or resources at the library
- The introduction of a new teacher at school (or other role)
Teach kids how to write a news pitch
Now that we’ve learned what makes a story newsworthy, and what the elements of a news story are, it’s time to teach kids how to write a news pitch. A news pitch is the intro letter that is sent to an editor to entice them to publish your article. This is the ‘gateway’ to getting published in the news.
While not teacher resources specifically, these articles below explain how to write a news pitch:
Here is a lesson plan on teaching kids how to write a news pitch:
Now, as the teacher, you can act as the ‘editor.’ Did the student’s news pitch pass the test of being newsworthy?
Teaching kids what makes the news can make them better critical thinkers
To conclude, we have seen that the stories in the news are often selected with objectives in mind. These can be advertiser interests, or they can be news that has been actively pitched to the editor of a newspaper. This doesn’t mean that other events are not happening in the world. But when a newspaper covers these stories, it can make them seem more prevalent in the public eye.
By going through the process of understanding what makes a news story, as well as learning how to pitch a news story, kids can become better critical thinkers. Before believing everything they see and hear on TV or in a newspaper, they can instead be equipped to ask questions like, ‘why is this story covered, and is it telling me everything I need to know about this topic?’
We’ll continue writing more on how to start a newspaper in future articles on our blog. Bookmark us to stay updated!