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Deceptive news lessons


In the era of the fight against fake news, we believe journalists must be aware of the social climate surrounding the work they do. The attacks and delegitimization of the news media on a national scale shouldn’t make us question the work we do.

We must be able to educate ourselves and our audiences about the role and mission of a 21st century journalist.

We’ve created this set of tools for educators to promote discussion about truth and credibility in the media we access as makers, sharers, consumers and evaluators. Our lessons are listed below:

Deceptive news

Interpretation, framing and sourcing

Why, and how, can two people be exposed to the exact same news story and interpret it differently? Why should this matter to journalists? People interpret the news differently depending on their cognitive schematic structure, or prior experiences. It’s important for journalists to understand this process so they can better understand how their audiences are interpreting the content they produce, so they can ultimately use that information to help shape their content

Journalists are taught to be objective, so they don’t “frame” stories” … or do they? Whether consciously or unconsciously, research suggests time and time again that what the media decides to cover, and how they cover it, ultimately influences what people find important and how they interpret the news. So it’s important for journalists to consider their story angle, word choice and even interview questions to be sure they don’t rely on social stereotypes, which could potentially be inaccurate, to tell their stories.

In the 21st century, we choose the media sources we consume in an increasingly passive manner. Stories show up in our news feeds and social media feeds, or in forwarded emails; often we don’t know the sources, or the sources look familiar, but they are from nefarious sources. Explore the changing nature of how we consume news, and help your students choose their information wisely.

Deceptive advertising

Questions of fake news and disinformation arise almost daily. Citizens also face information spread by sponsored content, an approach to storytelling designed to bring needed revenue to news media. The trouble is most readers and viewers cannot tell sponsored news from reported news. This lesson can help students understand how sponsored news developed, how to recognize it and ways to assist non-journalism communities in dealing with it.

Because of the rapid spread of sponsored content or native advertising, it is possible your students will have to decide whether to use them in their student media. Faced with that decision, what arguments would students raise and what decisions would they make – and why?

Because of the rapid spread of sponsored content, students may have to decide whether to accept sponsored content in their student media. How well can they recognize it and what would they do once they recognize it?

From previous lessons, student journalists should be aware of native ads and sponsored content and the importance of understanding the issues they raise. Now, they take this awareness and knowledge a step further and become the teachers to their various communities. They can use the positions they reported in the last lesson and inform others.

In this lesson, the teacher will lead students to create a Pinterest board that identifies native ads and sponsored content since it always helps to visually explain journalism terminology.

This lesson should follow other lessons on sponsored content. To help maintain student awareness of native ads and sponsored content, students will create Storify news stories and publish them to keep themselves and their communities aware of each.

Identification of Fake News

There has been a lot of talk lately about “fake news” because it has been particularly prevalent during the recent 2016 Presidential election campaign. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 62 percent of Americans get their news from social media sites and 44 percent get their news specifically from Facebook. Nearly 90 percent of millennials regularly get news from Facebook. In addition, a recent study from Stanford University revealed that many teens have difficulty analyzing the news; 82 percent of middle school students surveyed couldn’t tell the difference between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a legitimate news story.  

This lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn what fake news is, differentiate it from other types of news (including satirical, misleading and tabloid news), develop strategies for spotting fake news and consider what can be done about the proliferation of fake news.

Following the How to Spot Fake News lesson or Satire’s role in Current Events lesson (or perhaps even on its own or before the lesson), urge students to download the Jeopardy-style game to see how they really do in identifying fake news.

In this lesson, students explore propaganda techniques, and discuss how they are the targets of advertisers and politicians. Students will understand and identify how propaganda techniques are used to influence them into doing, feeling and believing a message that may or may not be of benefit to them. Students will create their own propaganda message using one (or more) of 11 known propaganda techniques. The key is to help students begin an awareness of, and the ability to identify, how their outlook on life is related to the messages they see. This lesson takes one 60-minute class period to complete.

In this lesson, students pick up where they left off in propaganda techniques as well as the concept of “spin” and discuss how politicians use these techniques to sway public opinion. Students will identify propaganda used in past and current ads and create their own advertisement using an assigned propaganda technique. Students will also examine how politicians spin current events to suit their own agendas and will assume the role of a prominent political figure’s communication representative who is responsible for spinning news events.

To go to another of the fake news categories in Tools of Truth:

• Sloppy reporting






Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE

John Bowen, MJE

Maggie Cogar, CJE

Michael Johnson

Lori Keekley, MJE

Jeff Kocur, CJE

Kristin Taylor, CJE


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