Media in Times of Crisis

War and the Media
Fact Finders: The Media in 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 are taken as fact. 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.

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 is dealing with during the war with Iraq.

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.

1. What sources do you trust? What sources do you not trust? Why?

2. 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?

3. Where do you get your news? (Television and radio stations, newspapers, Internet, people you know, etc.)

4. Where would you go to use the two-source test?

Fact Finding in the Information Age

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

Fact Finding in the Information-Age

Like journalists, you depend on sources for information. You may read a story in the newspaper, see it on televisions, or hear it from a friend. To judge the reliability of the story, you should always consider the source. Use the following SMART test to check your sources:

Source. For you to evaluate a source, you have to know who or what the source is. Where does the story come from? Is the person reporting the story an eyewitness to the story? Did the person get the story from others? From eyewitnesses? From officials? Trace the source down. If the source is unclear, be skeptical about the story.

Motive. Why do they say so? Sources often have a special interest or particular point of view that may cause them to slant information to suit their beliefs or causes. Biased sources can be accurate, but you need to check them carefully. Get all sides to a story.

Authority. How good is the source? Eyewitnesses can be wrong. Was the witness in a good position? If the source isn’t an eyewitness, make sure it is a source you can trust -- e.g. an expert on the subject, a newspaper with good fact checking. Be wary of any source that is repeating hearsay and rumors.

Review. Go over the story carefully. Does it make sense? Is it logically consistent? Are there any notable errors in facts or conclusions? Make a list of questionable facts. Develop questions about the story.

Two-source test. Double-check everything, if possible. Talk to a second party or tune-in to other newscasts to see if they are also reporting the same story. Research the subject in the library, by interviewing others, and search on the Internet. Does your two-source test confirm or contradict the story?

1.  Have you heard any inaccurate information from the media or from other people?

2.  If so, what was the information?

3.  Why do you think that mistake was made?

4.  How does misinformation impact the media?

5.  How does this impact the public?

6.  What can people do to keep themselves informed of the truth?

D. 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.