Adventures in Podcasting: What is the news supposed to do?

Good Newspaper
Photo by Branden Harvey on Unsplash.

I tried something new with my seventh graders in library class and I want to share it with you.

I imagine that many young people (though not all) have different expectations of journalists than most adults do. I don’t blame them. I rarely thought about the news as a tween or teen. I was fairly self-centered and more interested in my friend group. If students today feel like I did then, are they wondering what the big deal is when I try to arm them with strategies to spot fake news? Do young people know why the grownups are so bent out of shape about fake news? If students don’t interact much with the real news, if they don’t appreciate what the real news is supposed to do, then why should they worry about fake news?

I thought it couldn’t hurt if students asked their parents what they thought of the news. Maybe a conversation with an authority at home would put future news literacy lessons in context. I also like any kind of assignment that gets kids interacting with their parents. So I asked my students to record an interview with a parent or someone from a different generation, asking for opinions about the news media.

This was an optional homework assignment for my seventh graders, our first involving audio, so I tried to keep it as simple as possible to encourage participation. I took about five minutes of class time to show students how to record an interview using the voice memo app on their phones. WNYC’s Radio Rookies has an excellent video tutorial along with tips for conducting a good interview. I asked my students to use the following prompts:

  1. What is the news supposed to do?
  2. What should an audience expect from a news source?
  3. At its best, the news media can . . .
  4. At its worst, the news media can . . .

I emailed parents to explain the purpose of the assignment and let them know that participation was voluntary. After the interview was recorded, parents were instructed to email the audio file to my work address, noting whether or not I had permission to share their recording with the class.

The individual interviews were fabulous. Students did a great job with mic placement and recording and it was wonderful to hear parents giving such thoughtful, measured responses about a contentious topic. I was so pleased with the interviews that I decided to take the project one step further and weave the responses together into what would hopefully become a dope podcast à la This American Life or StoryCorps.

Ocenaudio makes audio editing easy for beginners.

This next step was only going to work if I could find a free audio editing app that was easy to use. After researching options, I downloaded Ocenaudio and studied Joe Collins’ fifteen minute YouTube tutorial to learn the basics. I found free, quirky background music at the YouTube Audio Library. After some basic editing and mixing, the following podcast was born. I share it with permission from everyone you hear in the recording:

How cute is that?

I like the idea that students and parents are dedicating a couple of minutes to having this conversation about the news media’s function in our democracy. I also like that students are taking steps towards doing journalism themselves. They can be news producers as well as consumers. And what can producing news teach students about consuming it? Ah, another post for another day . . .

But more than anything, I like that this assignment was super fun. The class got a kick out of hearing the montage, whether or not they submitted audio, and I’m sure there will be more takers next time. I loved playing around with tools and a form that were new to me. An added bonus is that this assignment contributes to program advocacy. Parents learn more about what we do in the library by participating in the interview and hearing the final product. They see (hear?) that we do more than shelve books and teach the Dewey Decimal System.

I’ll be trying more of this in the future, next time inviting students to generate the questions and, in a perfect world, teaching them how to design the audio. Although, real talk, I am sure there are SEVERAL seventh graders that could school me on audio and video production. Who knows how they might improve upon the process?

(Adventures in Podcasting Part 1, 2)

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