Fact Finders
Fact Finders—The Media During Times of Crisis
During times of crisis, people want information. They turn to news sources to find out what is happening and to help them figure out what might happen. At the same time, news sources are working at full capacity on short deadlines. Under these circumstances, false reports are sometimes circulated and believed.

In some cases, rumors spread and actual lies are told. This can add to the public’s fear or contribute to people drawing wrong conclusions. This activity provides an opportunity for your students to discuss the role media plays during times of crisis and the need for them to evaluate information they receive.

You will need to print out and make copies of the handout Fact Finding in the Information Age for your students.

1. Share with the class:

Minute–by-minute, the media receives news from around the world. On a normal day, news editors and reporters have some time to sort through information and decide what they will report, and how they will report it. But when a major event happens, just as the public’s normal routine is disrupted, so is that of the media. Imagine the vast amount of information the media was receiving during the terrorist attacks in America, and continues to receive as the world responds to the events.

Sometimes split-second decisions are made to report breaking news. People around the world tune in to radio and television broadcasts to get up-to-the-minute reports. Once in a while, information is received by the media, then reported to the public, then found to be inaccurate. Other times, accurate information is reported, but misinterpreted and spread by viewers and listeners.

2. Ask the students:

  • Have you heard any inaccurate information from the media or from other people?
  • If so, what was the information?
  • Why do you think that mistake was made?
  • How does misinformation impact the media?
  • How does this impact the public?
  • What can people do to keep themselves informed of the truth?

3. "Fact Finding in the Information Age"

Read and discuss the handout "Fact Finding in the Information Age" with your students. The SMART paradigm can be used to analyze information in a variety of settings and situations.

Discussion Questions:

  • What sources do you trust? What sources do you not trust? Why?
  • Have you seen or heard any reports that you think are motivated by a particular point of view or set of beliefs? Why is it important to get both sides to a story?
  • Where do you get your news? (Television and radio stations, newspapers, Internet, people you know, etc.)
  • Where would you go to use the two-source test?

4. Additional Resources

  • Invite members of the local news media to the classroom to answer students’ questions and share information about the challenges of reporting accurate information during times of crisis.
  • Visit Constitutional Rights Foundations website at Click on "Links" and then "Research," to access additional resources including media, disinformation, and government sites and other CRF lessons and curriculum materials, such as The Challenge of Information, that can provide more in-depth lessons for your students on this, and other social studies and law-related education topics.