Word Choices

Identify how news organizations use words

Often the public is unaware that words that have one definition to one group and a different meaning for another. We may be aware of what we think a word means, but not be aware that another set of people understands the same word differently.

  • Class discussion: Compare the words that different media use to talk about the same event or issue. Generate a list that have used differently by different groups. Some people talk about “Climate Change” while others talk about “Global Warming.” A “rebel” to one group of people might be considered a “fighter” by another, a “death” to one group might be considered “murder” by another, a “religious organization” to one group of people might be consider a “cult” by others. Do those words or phrases mean the same thing?

  • Student exercise: With students working in pairs or groups, take a set of stories and look at specific words that the news outlets used—did the different outlets use the same words to describe the same event or issues? And if they did use the same words, did they use them equally often

  • Class discussion: Do media describe or cover people differently depending on their gender, race/ethnicity, class/caste, age, religion, handicap or politics?

  • Student exercise: With students working in the pairs or groups, take a set of stories and consider the people who were talked to or quoted. If the same type of people were talked to, were they referred to in the same way (the same descriptions used?) i.e Are the same details mentioned about women as men (for example, the clothing of women)? Are the same details mentioned about minority as majority groups or political opponents? What might be the impact on readers or viewers of any differences that you find?

  • Follow-up discussion: Media may reflect their audiences’ attitudes towards other groups or other places. They can also have an impact on those attitudes. Give examples of how different ways of reporting on different groups or places can result in positive outcomes–say to overcome prejudice and stereotypes?

  • Student exercise: If you find a story that stereotypes different people or groups of people, rewrite it. What did you have to change in order to eliminate the stereotype?