Creating Customized Lessons around NL Material - Audience Bias

CNL News Lesson

Lesson Outline

May 2014

This is a template for a News Lesson built around an original Center for News Literacy video resource, and is meant as a DIY toolkit for teachers in which they marry our materials to a local or regionally-relevant news story. It encourages them to look for a report with certain characteristics and then use it alongside one of our videos for further exploration and discussion.

Audience bias – our tendency to call news ‘biased’ when it doesn’t match our beliefs – is one of the key underlying concepts of News Literacy. How open are our minds, really? How accurate is our ability to perceive truth? Our brains are sometimes the biggest barriers to our search for reliable information.

To use this tool:

First, find a still-unfolding local news story with elements that trigger implicit biases about gender, race, religion or some other hot button topic (such as the Trayvon Martin killing and the subsequent trial, or this environmental controversy) and have your students deconstruct it. Choose a story early in the coverage cycle, when both reporters and consumers are most tempted to jump to conclusions, and use it to illustrate the power of unconscious biases.

Next, give the students the very basic details of the story -- such as telling the the headline of a print story, or showing the teaser of a television story. Ask the students to then write down their expectations, based on that headline and their knowledge of similar events in the past. Then, as they read or watch, have them keep score of how often their predictions are confirmed. Later, have them reflect on how their perceptions may have changed.

Next, view this conversation between Dr. Nancy Franklin, an expert on memory, information processing and cognition, and Center for News Literacy Director Dean Miller. Together they explore such common perceptual barriers as source amnesia, confirmation bias, wishful thinking and other weaknesses of human perception.

Your goal is to allow students to see just where their own predilections and beliefs may color the way that they perceive or even read a particular story. Have the students come up with questions that they may ask others that share their beliefs in order to challenge themselves and each other.

Questions to Prompt Classroom Discussion:

  • What is cognitive dissonance? How is it evident in the comments that have accumulated online about this story?
  • How might your previously held views change when confronted with surprising facts?
  • Have you ever found your own version of the truth challenged? Did those views then change or stay the same?
  • Define “Inherent Bias”. How might it affect a reader of this story? Give an example.
  • What other questions might you need to ask yourself and others when confronted with a story like this one that may challenge your own beliefs?

Additional Resources: