A Model for Evaluation of Mass Media Coverage

By Johnson, Phylis | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Autumn 1996 | Go to article overview

A Model for Evaluation of Mass Media Coverage


Johnson, Phylis, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


The American public has welcomed the opportunity to participate in public debates and town meetings. One of the benefits of citizen empowerment is the emphasis on finding solutions to social issues as a countertrend to the rise of sensationalistic coverage in the media. This trend toward community journalism, as it is sometimes called, becomes especially significant when you consider that relatively few minorities are represented within the so-called mainstream media. The lack of minority representation within the media industry remains a prevalent problem, yet minority journalists, especially those reporting for culturally specific media, may offer suggestions on how to cover racially divisive issues.

In 1993, Steve Montiel, president of the Institute for Journalism Education (IJE) underscored the importance of "Total Community Coverage" in Kerner Plus 25: A Call to Action,

Misportrayal and non-portrayal of people of color in daily newspaper are the products of both individual and institutional practices. Changing those practices will have to be recognized as a priority by white as well as non-white journalists. For that to happen, newspapers are going to need to make it possible for white journalists to learn how to cover the total community side by side with journalists of color, who after all, are the most experienced in dealing with cultures other than their own.

The problem is that total community coverage is far more discussed by scholars, then implemented by practitioners. The idea of group investigation is not new for educators who have praised the benefits of cooperative learning, especially when the solution of a social problem may require investigation and evaluation of a multitude of perspectives. The Issue Investigation and Evaluation Instructional Model, validated by the National Diffusion Network in 1992, is designed to teach students how to develop social problem-solving skills, such as experiential learning and citizenship skills. During the investigation and evaluation process, it creates a classroom of reflective thinkers who tend to become more tolerant of divergent viewpoints. This model was originally designed for junior high students, yet it offers significant benefits to undergraduates students.

In this article, I will demonstrate how this model can serve as an important classroom tool when attempting to foster an appreciation of diverse viewpoints within a community. First, I will review the philosophical underpinnings of the Issue Investigation and Evaluation Instructional Model, and then introduce its structural components. In doing so, I will explore how the model may work toward the development of socially responsible journalists, rather than merely as a means to inspire citizenship among children and adolescents. A case study will provide the context upon which to demonstrate this instructional model in action.

Background

The Issue Investigation and Evaluation Instructional Model developed by Ralph A. Litherland, Harold R. Hungerford, R. Ben Peyton, John M. Ramsey, and Trudi L. Volk, and distributed by the U.S. Office of Education grew out of several philosophical perspectives, including John Dewey's desire to nurture divergent viewpoints in a democratic classroom, William Kirkpatrick's emphasis on experimental learning, and George Counts' call for social reform. For background, refer to Investigating and Evaluating Environmental Issues and Actions (1992).

The model began as an effort to teach students on how to investigate environmental issues, and through the years it has been adapted to include other science and technology issues. Through the years, the model has developed a citizenship component, which was added to stimulate students to participate in the resolution of an ill-defined social issue by first investigating the problem, and then recommending and whenever possible implementing an action plan.

Model components

In the model, the instructor guides students through each of the four levels, with learners claiming "issue" ownership as their investigative and evaluative skills gradually become more sophisticated. …

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