Your First Assignment

A great way to start understanding any topic is to follow how it is currently being reported. For your first assignment, you are tasked with following a developing story and improving coverage on the topic. This first assignment will serve as an introduction to news reporting and get you comfortable with reporting the news for people, not profits.

First, you will need to pick an existing story to follow. Start by finding a story you want to know more about on or another trusted source of news like Democracy Now! or The Intercept. Familiarize yourself on the topic and understand the key concepts to relate the news in easy to understand terms.

Begin to research your story by analyzing how the existing media reports on your chosen story. Think critically about important perspectives which might be missing from the media coverage. A great way to start is by writing a short response every time you see the story covered in the media and then comparing those responses to create your own analysis of the coverage.

Keeping track of coverage is simple with this simple spreadsheet. Copy and paste this template into a spreadsheet editor or download the .xlsx file to easily keep track of media coverage on your topic. Each time you find news about your story, fill out this spreadsheet and analyze the reporting for the important perspectives that might be missing.

Media OutletDateLinkMissing Perspective?Factual?Bias?
Democracy Now!Independent
Radio FreeIndependent
The InterceptFirst Look Media
Al JazeeraQatari Government

After evaluating enough sources to fully understand your chosen story, you will now analyze your findings and create your first media report. Take a look at how Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting reporters’ report on media bias for inspiration. Start by explaining the work you have done and the sources you followed. Explain how the media gets it right, how they get it wrong, and anything that is completely missing from the discussion. It is important to explain what possible outcomes might arise from the situation presented in your chosen story and to discuss how the story is being reported by other media outlets.

After evaluating the coverage of your chosen story, reach out to people effected by the news and capture their responses. While using social media can help gather comments on the issue, do not be shy about calling around and politely asking questions to piece together stories. If they agree to go on record, include these responses in your report by quoting the people you reached out to. If necessary, edit their responses by summarizing the points they are trying to make clearly and concisely.

Once you have completed your report, post it on to be considered for publication and share it with others. Keeping track of the context in which media is presented is the first crucial step to understanding the media landscape and learning to identify perspectives which are missing from current discussions.

This guide is free to use and can be adapted as a classroom project for all ages. Freely use it along with any of the above provided resources to help teach about media literacy and how information is powerful. Assign this as a semester long project with weekly reports or just once. Let students choose the media they already know alongside a few new sources recommended by the instructor. Follow the progress each week by breaking into small groups to discuss the story each student chose and then discuss those group findings as a class.