Wednesday 20 February 2013

What is news?

You are going to
  • discuss news, news sources and media
  • do some listening comprehension exercises
  • practise vocabulary to describe news
  • discuss the reliability of news and information sources 

Note - This post is not a complete lesson plan designed to be followed from start to finish. It is really a collection of activities mainly designed to stimulate discussion and help advanced or upper intermediate students think about what news is, what makes something newsworthy and how trustworthy news sources may be. 

The internet has enriched our lives and given many of us access to information that was previously unavailable. However, nowadays we seem to be verging on information overload and the 2 really important questions for the future seem to be how do we filter good news sources from bad and, in the age of photoshop, easy video editing tools, blogging and social networking, how do we differentiate real from fake?

1) Discuss - The News
  • How do you stay updated on what's important to you? Make a list eg TV, facebook...
  • What news topics are there? Make a list eg politics, sport...
  • What news vocabulary do you know? Make a list eg journalist, headline...

2) Discuss - Your views
Your views
  • What kind of news matters to you?
  • Are you interested in the news? Why? / Why not?
  • What exactly is news? How do you define news? What makes something interesting or newsworthy?
  • Who writes the news? Who decides what news is? Who can influence the news (politicians, business...)?

3) Watch Youth Views on the News
A) Youth Views on the News 1
How do the people answer some of the questions above?
Watch again and do the exercise below.

B) Youth Views on the News 2
What reasons do the people give for choosing their preferred news sources?

Watch the clip again and do the exercise below

4) Read - What is News?
What is news? 
Some famous quotes

  • How many do you agree with?

When a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news. 
Charles Anderson Dana, American journalist, 1819-1897

News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.

Lord Northcliffe, British publisher 1865-1922

Well, news is anything that's interesting, that relates to what's happening in the world, what's happening in areas of the culture that would be of interest to your audience.

Kurt Loder, American journalist, b. 1945

What you see is news, what you know is background, what you feel is opinion.

Lester Markel, American journalist, 1894-1977

No news is good news. 

Ludovic Halevy, French author, 1834-1908

For most folks, no news is good news; for the press, good news is not news.

Gloria Borger, American journalist, b. 1952

News is what a chap who doesn't care much about anything wants to read. And it's only news until he's read it. After that it's dead.

Evelyn Waugh, British author, 1903-1966

Journalism consists largely in saying Lord Jones died to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive.

G.K. Chesterton, British writer, 1874-1936


5) Watch - What is News?
Watch this video from the Pulitzer Center
What answers do these journalists give to the question "What is news?

1) Watch again and do exercise A. 
Put the sentences in the order you hear them

2) Watch the second half of the video again (1:45 - end) and do exercise B

6) Can you believe what you read? - Discuss
  • Do you think advertising affects news? How?
  • What is the most important thing a newspaper or media outlet should do - make money or give information?
  • Are there occasions when the media should be censored?
  • Do you think social networks like facebook and twitter should ever be censored?
  • If the news is business how much can you trust what you read or see?
  • Do you think a lot of news is sensationalist or exaggerated? Why?
  • What are the reasons for a a news story being exaggerated or untrue? Can you think of any examples?
  • What are the best ways of knowing when a news story is exaggerated or untrue?
  • What are the best ways of researching information on the web?
  • What are the best ways of knowing what is going on in the world?
  • What are the best ways of knowing what is true and what is fake?

7) Discuss - Headlines
  • What is a headline?
  • What are today's news headlines?
  • What makes a good headline?
  • Why are headlines important?
  • Are headlines sometimes more important than the story? Why? Why not?
Watch this clip from the film The Shipping News. You will hear three headlines
What are they?

Answers - highlight below
 - Horizon filled with dark clouds
 - Imminent storm threatens village
 - Village spared from deadly storm
Which two headlines are the best? Why?

In English headlines are often abbreviated leaving out common words like the or a. Why do you think newspapers do this?

8) Write
IELTS.Choose 1

1) News editors decide what to broadcast on TV and what to print in newspapers. What factors do you think influence their decisions? Have we become used to bad news? Would it be better if more good news was reported?

2) Present a written argument or case to an educated reader with no specialist knowledge of the following topic.
Whoever controls the media also controls opinions and attitudes of the people and there is little can be done to rectify this.
To what extend do you agree or disagree?
You should use your own ideas, knowledge and experience and support your arguments with examples and relevant evidence.

3) The popularity of news media often has significant influence on people’s lives. Some people believe this to be a negative development.
Do you agree or disagree?

4) The mass media, including TV, radio and newspapers, have great influence in shaping people's ideas. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement? Give reasons for your answer.

Printable worksheets here

General news sites

Snopes. Source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.

Humour, satire and parody

Media Literacy

BBC How fake images change our memory and behaviour

For EFL / ESL students
Words in the News - The English Blog

BBC Words in the News

BBC In the News quiz

Breaking News English

Newspaper Vocabulary


  1. What a remarkable lesson on News! I'll tell you about my student's feedback. Thanks for sharing. Daniel from Spain

  2. Thanks for commenting Danny.