Lesson 7 (Five Class Periods)

Primary and Secondary Sources

When compiling a story, there are two types of sources students need to be familiar with: primary and secondary. This lesson will define the two and explain to students how to identify them both, as well as how to use these sources. Additionally, it is of utmost importance to authenticate the sources to the best of the journalist’s ability. This is why it’s always better to have more than one source when reporting a story.

“In television, on-air credibility begins with accurate reporting. Accurate reporting begins with accurate newsgathering. It’s obvious. Getting the facts and getting them corroborated is the bedrock of journalism.” (Westin, If the Truth Be Known)

Primary Source

Primary sources are sources that provide first-hand information for your story. This type of source allows the reporter to get detailed, accurate information about the story or event and adds a human voice to the story you’re covering. Always remember that a primary source also reflects an individual viewpoint of a participant or observer.

Information acquired by a primary source can reflect an opinion or verifiable fact. Always fact-check when interviewing a primary source to verify the facts are accurate. As in any good story, it’s always recommended to obtain differing opinions and/or perspectives. If you interview somebody for a particular issue, you should also interview someone against the issue.

Examples of Primary Sources

A victim of campus theft tells her story of how she found her locker broken into

The principal says during an interview that the school has been named exemplary

A high school athlete describes what it was like to attend the state championship

A spokeswoman for a local clinic says teen pregnancy is up 20% since last year

During a speech, the superintendent of your school cites school statistics

Secondary Source

Secondary sources are resources containing the reporting of others such as government reports, reference books, public records, Internet pages and government reports. Always remember it is the reporter’s responsibility to decipher whether a source is fact or opinion, as well as verify the information taken from the source.

One way to fact check is to cross-reference the material. For example, you read a story involving drug statistics in your community. A reporter should always ask for a copy of the study, confirm the research and try to find correlating information to back the source. Always use Internet sources with care as many don’t leave a paper trail making it hard for a reporter to back up the information.

Finally, always cite any sources used for a report. For example, when reporting on a certain issue using a secondary source, say “According to xyz report…”

Scenario 1

A popular high school cheerleader collapses and dies after a routine practice. Rumors are beginning to develop that involve anything from her being bulimic and taking diet pills to doing cocaine. One student says she saw her in the gym locker room snorting cocaine. Another student says he has witnessed her on many occasions throwing up behind the school.

People to interview: the girl’s parents, a hospital representative, the cheerleading coach, the medical examiner/coroner, the girl’s best friend, fellow cheerleaders. Who would you talk to in order to verify the cause of death?

Objectives/Knowledge Retained

An understanding of a primary source and secondary source
An understanding of how to use primary and secondary sources in reporting and broadcast

Materials/Resources Needed

Handout (To be created)
One to three cameras (preferably more than one for switching)
A long table or podium, or an area where a news conference can be conducted

Activity (Day 1, 2, 3 and 4)

Pass out and go over Handout “Lesson 7” to the class
After reviewing primary and secondary sources, students will individually write interview questions based on the following scenario. The students’ job will be to find out the truth of the story so stress the importance of developing good questions and establishing primary and secondary sources. Students will choose which (or all) sources they will interview and develop questions accordingly. Have students list which sources are primary and secondary. Students will turn in the interview questions at the end of the second class period. As a teacher you can choose to use this assignment as a grade or continue with the lesson, or a combination of both. Another activity will follow this and can be found in the Input section of the lesson.


Scenario 1

A popular high school cheerleader collapses and dies after a routine practice. Rumors are beginning to develop that involve anything from her being bulimic and taking diet pills to doing drugs. One student says she saw her in the gym locker room snorting cocaine. Another student says he has witnessed her on many occasions throwing up behind the school.

People to interview: the girl’s parents, a hospital representative, the cheerleading coach, the medical examiner/coroner, the girl’s best friend, fellow cheerleaders. Who would you talk to in order to verify the cause of death?

Anticipatory Set (Day 1 and 2)

Write the above scenarios on the chalk/whiteboard
If available, show Dan Rather’s report on George W. Bush’s US National Guard service (which led to several high-powered CBS executives termination) in which forged documents were used and sources may not have been thoroughly checked. If this is not available, explain to the students what happened and why. Below are some links detailing the story and the consequences relating to the story:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rathergate
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/01/10/national/main665727.shtml
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/09/08/60II/main641984.shtml

After viewing or discussing the incident, ask students what could have been done in order to more accurately verify sources. Ask students if they feel it was fair and balanced reporting. Did the report come across as fair? Did it come across as biased? Ask your students if they would have done anything differently. Stress to students that regardless of how they feel the interview went, it resulted in enormous consequences with one of the most well-respected broadcast journalists forced to retire and how important it is to ALWAYS check your sources.

Objective/Purpose

Students will learn the importance of identifying several different sources, both primary and secondary. Additionally, students will learn the importance of checking sources to make certain the sources are correct. By knowing the different types of sources, students will be able to report a more in-depth, accurate story.

Input (Day 3, 4 and 5)

Students will divide into groups of three or four and conduct a news conference. Students will decipher who will serve as the interviewer and interviewees. At this point, the teacher can switch cameras (Lesson 8 details crew assignments). The interviewer will decide which sources they want to interview and the interviewees will serve as those sources. The teacher will record and store each video conference segment and the interviewer (along with the group) will be responsible for writing the story/script for the evening news. The following considerations need to be explained to the students:

As a reporter, always remember your job is to produce a balanced, fair, and accurate report.

As an interviewee, it’s up to you – what you want to tell and how you want to tell it. Don’t volunteer any information, unless you want to.

For the reporter: Use the questions created in the previous assignment and add, if necessary. Remember to create open-ended questions, not “yes/no” questions. Be prepared to ask questions that you may not have already composed. After the news conference, students will write a script for the story for the evening news. The script can be graded, or saved for Lesson 14 (this will be a lesson on editing that integrates Lesson 7) or both.

Model (ongoing)

Before the news conference activity, show an example of a news conference. This could be any news conference, a Tony Snow news conference to a local news conference relevant to the community. Have the students watch this conference and as a teacher, point out good examples of questions and bad examples of questions.

Check for Understanding (ongoing)

Before students begin their activity, the teacher will measure understanding through the written interview questions turned in on day 2 of the lesson. Make sure students are grasping the difference between primary and secondary sources.

Guided Practice (ongoing)

The last several days of the lesson have consisted of guided practice before the news conference activity. Students should have a good idea through the different activities throughout the lesson of how to successfully decipher primary/secondary sources, as well as how to compose effective questions for each category.

Closure (Day 6)

After writing the evening news script, students will turn the assignment in as a group project. Students should be graded on whether or not they understand the difference between primary and secondary sources and how accurate their story was based on the news conference footage. Tell students that this lesson will be used in a future lesson on editing.

Independent Practice/Enrichment

Have students write an essay of the importance of primary and secondary sources, as well as their accuracy and validity, as it pertains to real-world broadcasting. Have students cite examples of different stories/broadcasts, or the journalists reporting them.

Integration into live broadcast

As the role of reporter and/or anchor (and even the producer and director), the use of primary and secondary sources will always be prevalent, ensuring a well-rounded story. For the reporter and/or anchor, as well as the daily news show producer, fact-checking will also be equally important.


 

National Educational Standards Met

Language Arts, Standard 1: Read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information, to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace, and for personal fulfillment.
Language Arts, Standard 4: Adjust their use of spoken, written and visual language to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
Language Arts, Standard 7: Conducts research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. Gather, evaluate and synthesize data from a variety of sources to communicate discoveries in ways that suit purpose and audience.
Language Arts, Standard 8: Use a variety of technological and information resources to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
Civics, Standard 5: Citizen responsibilities, citizen rights
Technology, Standard 4: Students use telecommunications to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences.
Technology, Standard 5: Uses technology to locate, evaluate and collect information from a variety of sources.
Technology, Standard 6: Uses technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions; employs technology in the development of strategies for solving problems in the real world.


 

 

Additional MaterialResources and suggested reading

 

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