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Award-winning science reporting by Sally Lehrman with an emphasis on race relations, identity and gender.



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Discussion of news coverage of illegal alien costume

Learning goals

  1. The fault lines help journalists understand the ways in which life experience can shape the way a person interprets and responds to a news event.
  2. The Society of Professional Journalists ethics code offers a useful means to evaluate our approach to coverage.
  3. “Seek truth and report it” in the ethics code requires a journalist to consider the fault lines and gather a variety of perspectives across those fault lines.


Maynard Institute for Journalism Education Fault Lines explanation
Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Code
"Illegal Alien Controversy" video
iMovie template with original news clips

Prepare: Start by explaining the fault lines or reminding students about them. Introduce the SPJ Ethics code and highlight the section entitled, "Seek truth and report it."

Part I: Watch the video and notice how the emphasis and frames of a story change depending on whom the reporter interviews.

Stop at title slide for discussion. Ask any or all of the following:

  1. What is this story about?
  2. What perspective(s) about the topic does this piece communicate?
  3. What is the “truth” it communicates?
  4. Why do you think the reporter covered it this way? What decisions did the reporter make in interviews, in production?

Instructor: Explain what you noticed as an expert.

El Paso
Stop at the next title slide for discussion. Ask:

  1. What perspective(s) about the topic does this piece communicate?
  2. What is the “truth” communicated here?
  3. Why do you think the journalist ended up with this “truth”?
  4. What perspectives are communicated?
  5. What choices did the reporter make in interviews, production that makes this one different?

Discuss together.  Also, do you think these distinctions stem solely from regional differences?

Stop at the next title slide. Ask:

  1. How is this story different from the other two?
  2. What perspective(s) are communicated?
  3. What choices did the reporter make in interviews, production that makes this one different?

This time, ask students to come up with answers in pairs and report back to the group for a final discussion.

Part II: Make your own news video on the same topic

Make your own version of the illegal immigrant story using iMovie, but one that approximates “truth” for a national audience. Refer back to the fault lines and the SPJ Ethics Code for guidance. Write a script for the anchor to read.

Questions to consider:

  1. Central concept: How do you approximate truth based on the interviews we have here?
  2. Fairness: How do you avoid regional, racial/ethnic or age stereotyping?
  3. Balance: How do you transition smoothly from one perspective to another without pitting one voice against another?
  4. Bias:  How do you keep your own perspective silent?
  5. Structure and flow: How do you introduce the idea, communicate the mix of relevant perspectives and underlying issues, then close?

Review the results together and discuss the problems encountered as well as the decisions that went into the process. Summarize the challenges a journalist faces in seeking "truth" and some strategies to overcome them.

Your feedback on this exercise would be appreciated. Please write to slehrman@scu.edu or call 408-551-3000 x4256.

©Sally Lehrman