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
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (8): desktop publishing, design and layout training
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (9): photojournalism
The importance of teaching kids about citizen journalism
In this series on teaching kids how to start a newspaper, we realize the goal of these lessons is not to produce career journalists out of our students. Instead, it is to help them become media literate.
It is important, as kids mature into adults, that they understand they are being given curated and selective messages in the media. This can affect what they believe to be true, or the biases they maintain. And, this is not just about understanding propaganda like the North Korean government-controlled media. Or war propaganda, which they may learn about in history class. Media messaging can be subtly biased, without being out-right propaganda.
Today, with the advent of mobile phones and easy-to-publish tools (like online blogs), it is the citizens who can do much of the reporting of what happens. This has brought about debate; there are pros and cons to citizen journalism.
In a way, though, some of the responsibility of making information accessible now lies on us – citizens – as opposed to editors, journalists and media conglomerates.
And so, are our children aware of these issues? Are they able to discern stories that need to be told to a wider audience? Do they know when to turn the camera on, and when to leave it off? And, can they identify the difference between quality journalism, and unprofessional reporting?
Showing kids examples of citizen journalism, and how it has made a difference so far
One of the best ways to learn is by example. In your class, group tutoring session or homeschooling lesson, you can show kids how citizen journalism has affected media coverage until today.
While not citizen journalism per se, the recent 2017 solar eclipse that travelled across North America brought about a citizen science project. People everywhere could record images of the solar eclipse, and its effects, thus helping scientists gather more data. This is the type of thing you can get your students to participate in, and teach them a science lesson about it too!
This article on CNN.com gives several examples of citizen journalism, and some may resonate with kids too. And this article, about the citizen reporting of the Ferguson riots, can get kids thinking about the way in which our cameras and mobile devices play a part in democracy and civil rights.
Although, we would advise that you use caution when presenting cases to certain age groups or personalities, as they can bring about some other serious talks, which parents may want to have with their kids.
Teach kids about the limits of citizen journalism
As this article explains, our kids of today need to understand how to be citizen journalists in a responsible way. The role of journalists in the recent past was to report on events with training, and an understanding of the laws and moral implications of doing so.
For instance, kids should be taught about the difference between citizen journalism and an invasion of privacy. They also need to know the potential downfalls of publishing hearsay and rumour, as opposed to hard facts and research. They also need to understand how context changes the meaning and interpretation of a video or photo – the things that happened before and after can tell a new story. And, as we discussed in earlier lessons of this series, kids need to be taught the difference between opinion and fact – and that means recognizing their own bias too (the ones we all think we don’t have, included!).
This page of Wikipedia also explains how citizen journalism differs from other types of efforts, with similar naming. It gives a rundown of the history of citizen journalism, its uses, and its outlets too.
Finding online lesson plans to teach citizen journalism to students
We found a couple of lessons you can use when teaching kids about citizen journalism:
To conclude: students may not turn journalism into a career, but they can still participate in media coverage as citizens
After learning the ins and outs of responsible reporting, we hope that kids can learn the importance of citizen journalism, its dangers, and its role within a democratic society. They may not turn reporting into their career of choice. But that hasn’t stopped many who contribute to society’s storytelling today, still making a difference through mass media.