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Multimodal Mondays: Using TV News Chyrons to Reflect on Fair and Accurate Treatment of Sources

posted: 3.3.14 by Andrea Lunsford

TV News is full of sources, some more credible than others, and although “media bias” is a buzzword of this and every age, it helps sometimes to remind ourselves that news broadcasts can be quickly tested on the issues of fairness and credibility. How? Well, evaluating the chyron (or lower third)—that piece of onscreen editorial apparatus crucial to any TV news story—certainly helps. The chyron shares not only important information about the speaker or onscreen action in any news story but also some context or summary of a speaker’s point of view (or an editor’s characterization of that point of view). Students can analyze the format of TV news chyrons in order to reflect on the responsibilities students—as writers—have to fairly and accurately characterize sources.

Goal

To get students to develop criteria for a helpful, balanced TV news chyrons, and to have them reflect on what it means to characterize sources fairly and accurately.

Background reading before class

  • Everything’s an Argument, Ch 18, Evaluating Sources
  • The St. Martin’s Handbook, Ch 12, Evaluating Sources and Taking Notes
  • The Everyday Writer, Ch 17, Evaluating Sources and Taking Notes
  • Writing in Action, Ch 14, Evaluating Sources and Taking Notes
  • EasyWriter, Ch 38, Evaluating Sources and Taking Notes

In class

First, familiarize your students with the chyron as an element of the TV news broadcast. Named for the company that developed the character-rendering onscreen technology, the chyron typically contains a number of pieces of information, including:

  • The name of a speaker
  • The job title of the speaker or her qualifications for speaking on a topic
  • A very brief summary of the topic being discussed, or sometimes a summary of the source’s point of view in relation to the topic of the broadcast.

Of course, a quick Google search will show you any number of chyron gaffes, and while these are definitely amusing, watching an hour of almost any news broadcast will go far in helping students understand the effectiveness of a straightforward chyron (even one that we may perceive as carrying bias).The image above is a capture of a Today show interview with UN Ambassador Samantha Power. The story was criticized for its chyron, which many people believe focused too heavily on characterizing Power, the youngest-ever US ambassador to the United Nations, as a working mom instead of focusing on her accomplishments as a diplomat.

http://www.today.com/video/today/53174086#53174086 

As a class, watch the full interview, and ask your students to take notes on how the information in the interview compares to the chyron present throughout. Ask them the following questions:

  • What sorts of information get presented in this space?
  • What information gets shared about the different speakers in a news story? How is this information relevant to the topic of the broadcast?
  • Does the summary information presented match the content of the news story?
  • Does the chyron fairly represent the story?

Ask your students to develop a “chyron test”—a set of criteria to use either as they evaluate sources they may want to use in their writing or a set of criteria they can use to quickly evaluate how they treat their own secondary sources.  Among these criteria might be requirements that a good chyron represent a source’s qualifications to address an issue; accurately summarize a source’s point of view; or choose quotations that fairly characterize a source’s argument.

Assignment

Before the next class meeting, have students choose a couple of sources from a draft they’re writing (alternately, you might pair this assignment with the reading students are doing for class), and ask them to use the criteria you’ve developed for writing good chyrons to draft chyrons for their sources. A little imagination can go a long way here: ask students to imagine that their sources are part of a TV news broadcast. How can they use the limited space of the chyron to fairly and accurately represent who their source is and what their source has to say on a topic?

Reflection on the activity

Ask students to reflect on the activity, using questions like these as prompts for discussion and writing:

  • What did you learn from reinterpreting your sources as chyrons?
  • What kinds of information were you forced to omit from your chyrons?
  • How did your sources fare when you applied the chyron criteria to them?
  • Do you think you fairly and accurately characterized your sources?
  • How did writing chyrons make you think of the sources you planned to use?

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