The changing face of the media


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Alan Rusbridger stepped down as editor of the Guardian newspaper at the end of May this year and wrote a very interesting and insightful “farewell” editorial.

In its entirety, it is probably too long and too detailed for use in the classroom. He does, however, provide an overview of how newspapers have changed over the past 20 years and how this is effecting what major newspapers do. Instead of starting at the beginning of the article, I’d give a short introduction: “When Rusbridger took over as editor of the Guardian in 1995, newspapers were quite different from what we know today.” Then start reading from the paragraph “Stories were told in words” and continue until the end of the paragraph before the “Breaking news” heading. (You could also continue with WikiLeaks and Snowden but this would involve more background knowledge or research on the part of the students.) This extract gives a concise overview of many of the changes that we have seen over the years. The students could collate the information either in a timeline or in table, then decide how best to present it with visuals to show the changing face of the media.

The following video of Rusbridger talking about open journalism “Journalists are not the only experts in the world” would also tie in well (even though it is from 2012) as it highlights another important shift in recent years: citizen journalists.

Nobody saw it coming!

After the surprising events of the last twenty-four hours, the UK is still reeling: the Conservatives won outright despite the polls saying that they were neck and neck with Labour, the hung Parliament we had been led to believe was a foregone conclusion never materialised, the Liberal Democrats have been crushed, Labour has suffered a terrible defeat and the SNP have enjoyed a landslide victory in Scotland …

The bbc website and the major newspapers have all had live feeds and given extensive coverage. The Guardian’s coverage proved particularly good. Of course from a teaching point of view, Cameron’s first speech after the Conservative victory provides a lot of interesting discussion material, and a comparison of the resignation speeches by Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage (all on the same webpage as Cameron’s first speech) could also be fruitful.

In addition, The Guardian posted an interesting selection of front pages from British daily newspapers this morning. It not only provides a clear overview of where the individual papers stand politically (such as The Daily Mirror “Five more damn years”, The Daily Mail “Hallelujah! Britain votes for sanity” and The Daily Telegraph “Cameron triumphs on shock election night”) but also an interesting insight into the different types of newspapers and reporting styles on offer.

Once the dust has settled, let’s see how things start shaping up.

Miliband’s pledge stone

Things are heating up in the run-up to Thursday’s election. On 3rd May Ed Miliband unveiled a 2,5 metre high stone slab carved with Labour’s election promises. The slab was quickly taken up and parodied on social media, and was dubbed #edstone on Twitter.

Miliband defended it in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme saying, “Our pledges are carved in stone. I think trust is a huge issue in this election – the difference with our pledges is they are not going to expire on 8 May. Nick Clegg went into the last election saying he’d cut tuition fees – he trebled them. David Cameron went into the last election, saying ‘no ifs no buts – net migration into the tens of thousands’ – it’s 298,000. We’re setting out promises – they don’t expire on May 8. They don’t disappear.”

Interestingly, as ITV pointed out, the pledge stone did get everyone talking and engaging with Labour’s message …

The Daily Telegraph has a put together a concise video overview of possible outcomes, outlining how many seats the Tories or Labour need to win outright and which parties will be key in forming a coalition if neither party succeeds in getting an outright majority.

As the candidates now embark on whistle-stop tours round the country to try to garner last-minute votes, you can see what the pollsters are predicting here on at the May2015 website (run by the New Statesman political magazine).

And now all we can do is wait and see what happens on 7th May.

Campaign posters – UK elections

The UK election is looming and the campaign is heating up. All of the major newspapers have dedicated election sites which provide detailed information. However, if you’re looking for something for your students that covers the main policies and where the parties stand on them, then try the manifesto guide on the bbc website. It provides a lot of helpful background information and gives the students an insight into how the parties differ on key issues. There’s also a very concise overview of the actual events at the UK Parliament website.

It’s also interesting to have students look at and compare the posters created by the different parties. Here are links to some of the latest ones, as well as two from the past that have stood the test of time.

The original Conservative poster from 1979 has been varied in election campaigns ever since. It was based on a pun – people standing in a dole queue without a job that at the same time shows that the Labour employment policies were not working. Labour produced a different version of this for the 2015 campaign to make a point about NHS waiting times.

The Conservatives have used the image of a wrecking ball (a word students might be familiar with due to Miley Cyrus’s song) to show what they think will happen to the economy if Labour wins. A Spectator blog provides some information on how the poster was created. At the end there is a reference to the first Conservative Party poster for the 2015 election that featured a road representing the “road to recovery“. This poster was, however, widely mocked as it transpired that the photograph was based on a photoshopped photo of a road in Germany.

The Liberal Democrats have chosen a slogan that is familiar to children in the UK – how to cross a road: look left, look right, then cross. This is, of course, also intended to mean that people should look to the left (Labour) to the right (Tories) then put a cross for the LibDems. This poster, featuring Ed Balls (Labour, the Shadow Chancellor) and George Osbourne (Conservative, the Chancellor), shows that a Labour or Conservative government would “lurch economic policy dangerously to the left or the right” according to the LibDem website.

Another iconic poster was the one created by the Conservatives for the 2001 election campaign. It shows a pregnant Tony Blair. Again, it’s a great example of how language can work on different levels (labour = process of giving birth / the political party; to deliver a baby / promise).




Immigrants in their own words

On 24 March The Guardian devoted a great deal of its Opinion pages to the topic of immigration. Jonathan Freedland, the executive editor for the Opinion pages, wrote a short introduction to the topic. He points out that discussions about immigration often leave out the voices of the immigrants themselves. So, The Guardian dedicated a section to them; “Immigrants in their own words: 100 stories“, in which immigrants living in the UK have told their own stories.

I’ve selected a few for you in advance, but they are all well worth reading and shed light on how diverse Britain is becoming:

“I arrived at Gatwick in June 2002 when the World Cup was in full swing”

“I am Bekele Woyecha”

“My first year was exceptionally cold”

“I remember being struck at how quiet it was on the first day”

“Everything was strangely calm”

“And yet living here is toxic, somehow.”  

“Life could not be much better”

“As an immigrant, people don’t recognise your skills or your qualifications.”

 “I found many aspects of British society odd”

Which story did you find the most insightful?

The US President stars in an advert with a difference

In this tongue-in-cheek video “Things everybody does but doesn’t talk about” President Obama is waiting for an interviewer to arrive. The video shows the interviewer and the President preparing for the interview (in similar ways but different places). To pass the time, the President gets out a selfie stick, plays air basketball, makes doodles of his wife, practises delivering his pitch in which he tells people to sign up for his health care plan and even uses current slang at the end, saying “Yolo” (you only live once) …

The video was created by BuzzFeed, the American Internet news media company. It was conceived as a way of connecting with millennials and getting them to sign up for the President’s health care plan (there is a link to the website at the end). As interviews using traditional media, such as newspapers would probably not have reached this target group, the President took to social media. The video was posted on Facebook on 12 February 2015, and within an hour of being online, it had been viewed over 1.5 million times.

It is not the first time that President Obama has embraced different media as a way of reaching out to people, especially young people. JFK is often said to be the first president who really understood television, Obama is the first social media president: he was the first US presidential candidate to effectively use social media (Facebook and Twitter) as a major campaign strategy way back in 2008, fine-tuned this strategy for his run in 2012, was interviewed by three young YouTube stars after his State of the Union, and was also the first president to appear on a late-night comedy show while in office.

Critics have claimed that the video is disrespectful to the office of president and that such tongue-in-cheek behaviour is unpresidential. The cartoonist Michael Ramirez commented in this cartoon and Mark W. Davis, a White House speechwriter for President George Bush, wrote, “The same face that mugs in the mirror and sticks out a tongue may have to go on television to announce the beginning of a war. The same hand that holds a selfie stick will certainly have to sign condolence letters.”

To joke around or not to joke around – what do your students think?


The selfie craze

The media dubbed 2013 the Year of the Selfie and it was Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year too. The trend continued in 2014, with politicians, celebrities, footballers and even astronauts posting selfies on social media. And then came the selfie stick – an expandable stick on which you put your mobile phone to take a selfie. It was one of the most popular holiday gifts in the US and the UK in 2014. However, the craze now seems to have got a little out of hand and museums in the US, the UK and other countries are banning them (have a look at the cartoon in the Australian Herald Sun). This article on the bbc website includes a two-minute embedded video, which discusses selfie sticks and why they are being banned by some museums but are tolerated by others.

Discussion topics could include whether:

  • selfies are a sign of narcissism,
  • the taking of selfies (with or without selfie sticks) should be banned in certain places,
  • it is acceptable to edit or even photoshop a selfie before it’s posted,
  • people who post too many selfies on social media risk damaging their real-life relationships
  • selfies will continue to be big in 2015 or are people beginning to tire of them?

Mouse for sale

Mouse for Sale by Wouter Bongaerts

Mouse for sale  is a great film for practising the present simple and present progressive with younger students (Years 5/6). It’s short (only 4 minutes) and does not contain any speech, which can be a bonus at times as the students can concentrate on describing what is going on.

The words “seesaw”, “earwig”, “headphones”, “button (on the headphones)”, “peanut” or “nut” will need to be given in advance, but otherwise the students should be able to use words that they know to talk about the film. The film could also be used to revise adjectives to describe feelings.

Making up new words

Go ahead, make up new words is an entertaining six-minute talk given by the lexicographer Erin McKean in November 2014. In it, she encourages her teen audience to be creative with language and to make up new words, both as a way of expressing their ideas more clearly and as a way of grabbing people’s attention. She explains six ways in which new words are created, using humorous examples to get her point across. The video is not only a fun way to analyse how new words are created but also provides a good starting point for getting students to examine and play with language themselves.

A transcript is also available.

Digital tattoos are forever

This fascinating six-minute talk – Your online life permanent as a tattoo – is given by the futurist Juan Enriquez. In this video, he talks about how the information we post online can be compared to a digital tattoo. It provides a great and less patronizing starting point for a discussion in Years 11 and 12 on what we post online. Before the students watch, you might like to ask them to think about what their online presence and a tattoo have in common.

There’s a transcript of the talk, too.