This lesson provides students an opportunity to discuss how racial bias impacts news coverage in mainstream media outlets through a short video about multidisciplinary artist Alexandra Bell creating counternarratives from NY Times content. Students will apply ideas from this video to their own news consumption and/or student media.
- Students will watch and analyze a video about artist Alexandra Bell’s Counternarratives series, collect sound bites and document questions, feelings and connections to her work.
- Students will evaluate the relevance of Bell’s work to their own student media and create action steps in response.
Core State Standards
|Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.|
|Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
|Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.|
|Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.|
Materials / resources
- Access to internet and ability to project video on a whiteboard or share a link students can watch independently
- Link to Nieman Lab Twitter thread documenting journalists of color’s experiences in American newsrooms
- 2018 Infinity Award Video — Applied: Alexandra Bell – hyperlink to YouTube video about Alexandra Bell’s Counternarratives series
- Examining Racial Bias in Mainstream Media: Student reflection doc. Students can make a copy of the Google doc and complete it digitally or teacher can print copies for the class. Assessment rubric included on doc.
- 2020 editorial from the L.A. Times (for differentiation/extension activity)
- Warm-Up (5 min): Ask — What is the importance of diversity in a newsroom? (Possible answers: more perspectives on issues, greater awareness of what all members of the public experience, more angles on stories, different story pitches)
- Context (10 min): Summer 2020 was a time of racial reckoning across America, and newsrooms were no exception. Nieman Lab documented journalists of color’s tweets about their encounters with institutionalized racism in this thread. (Teachers might project on the board or have students explore some of these tweets on their own. Teachers could have students preview this thread and respond in a journal as an alternative warm-up activity.)
According to the Pew Research Center, “more than three-quarters (77%) of newsroom employees – those who work as reporters, editors, photographers and videographers in the newspaper, broadcasting and internet publishing industries – are non-Hispanic whites.” While marginalized communities have long, rich traditions of establishing their own media outlets and investigative journalists like Ida B. Wells published stories white-dominated newspapers wouldn’t run, mainstream media has long been dominated by a single perspective. This lack of diversity in the newsroom impacts both what is covered and how it is covered.
Alexandra Bell is a “multidisciplinary artist who investigates the complexities of narrative, information consumption, and perception. Utilizing various media, she deconstructs language and imagery to explore the tension between marginal experiences and dominant histories. Through investigative research, she considers the ways media frameworks construct memory and inform discursive practices around race, politics, and culture.” She has won multiple awards and exhibited her art in many prominent galleries. She holds a M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.
- Video Prep (5 min.): Distribute copies of “Examining Racial Bias in Mainstream Media: Student Reflection” for handwritten notes or provide a link to the Google doc so students can make a copy and type their own notes. Students can watch the video as a class or on their own in remote classrooms.
Review basic instructions: “As you watch this video, add notes to the yellow row, jotting down sound bites that seem interesting or important. When you’ve finished watching the video, you will have an additional five minutes to add notes to the blue row (questions, feelings, connections). After the video, you’ll meet in small groups to discuss and then create action steps (green row).”
- Video and initial reflection time (15 min.): Either watch as a class or have students watch independently. The video is nine minutes long. Give students 15 minutes total so they have time to watch the video and then, independently, add questions, feelings and connections to their personal note sheets.
- Small groups (15 min): Break students into small groups. Students should use their personal note sheets to discuss the video and share their questions and connections. One person in each group should serve as notetaker and another as spokesperson. In the last five minutes, the teacher should direct students to create concrete action steps in the green row. The group may have some shared actions, but students should be encouraged to tailor these actions to their own needs and personal experiences.
- Report out (10 min): The spokesperson from each group will share takeaways from their discussion and specific actions the video inspired them to take. Teacher will collect note sheets to assess.
Students who want a stretch activity might consider reading this Sept. 2020 editorial from the L.A. Times to see how the Times is confronting its history rooted in systemic racism. If the school’s media program has existed for a long time, students could examine historical copies and consider their own media’s history. If appropriate, students might consider writing their own editorial in response to what they find.