AJR in the Classroom
Discussion questions for the October/November 2004 issue, along with suggestions for further readings:

STORY 1: Images of War | Story 2: What's the Point? | Story 3: Unearthing the Undervote |
 Story 4: Lobbying Juggernaut

Iraqi in desert/ Photo courtesy James Hill
A dead Iraqi in the desert, published April 2003 in Time magazine. Is this early image of the U.S.-led invasion more poetic than graphic? (Photograph courtesy James Hill © 2003)
STORY 1: “Images of War: This year the American news media have displayed pictures of burned bodies in Fallujah, flag-draped coffins coming home from Iraq and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But were they too squeamish when it came to showing the carnage of war during the invasion last year?” By Lori Robertson

MORE QUESTIONS: Were editors initially passing over pictures of the war's human toll in favor of those depicting military might? How much does the public's sensitivity now play into newsroom decisions?


  • Ask students to read photographer Peter Turnley's essay (linked below) and view his images from the first Persian Gulf War, published in 2002 on digitaljournalist.org. Then ask them to write a 600-word essay, responding to these questions: If you were the photo editor of a major daily and Turnley's war images were submitted to you for publication, which of these pictures would you ultimately publish, where and why? Students should address their thought process in making the decision: What ethical questions would they ask before deciding about publication? Would placement matter in deciding whether or not they should run? Would the size of the photos matter? Would publishing in black-and-white vs. color make a difference?





STORY 2: “What's the Point? Few voters are swayed by newspaper endorsements of presidential candidates. So why do editorial pages keep publishing them?” By Tim Porter


MORE INFO: Some editorial writers say they hope to stimulate discussion and debate in the community and express a newspaper's values. But the nation's two largest newspapers - USA Today and the Wall Street Journal -- don't endorse candidates. Brian Gallagher, editorial page editor of USA Today, says in a diverse nation, there isn't any one choice that would suit everyone.



  • Have students research the editorial pages of your local daily for the weeks that led up to the 2000 and 1996 general elections. In which contests did the paper endorse candidates? Which candidates were backed? Compare those findings to elections' boards tallies for those contests. Did the endorsed candidates win their races? 

  • Have students write a 600- to 800-word essay: If they were the editor of the local daily, would they allow candidate endorsements on their editorial pages? If so, for all races, or just some? Be sure that arguments address research findings on media influence and include examples from other newspapers' experiences with endorsements.



STORY 3:Unearthing the Undervote: Florida wasn't the only state with egregious election errors in 2000, and it's highly likely glitches will occur in November. Are reporters ready to spot them?” By Thomas Hargrove


MORE INFO: Experts recommend that to prepare for the November elections, journalists start asking questions now. They should call county elections officials to make sure they will be given figures for the total number of ballots cast in every county and precinct. Only then will they be able to track missing votes for a particular contest, such as president, to determine if the "undervote" or undercount is suspiciously high or low.



  • Have each student contact a different county elections supervisor in your state to get the total number of ballots cast in that county in 2000, along with the canvass report for each race in that county. Then have each student determine what that county's undervote was for the 2000 presidential contest. According to reporter Thomas Hargrove, here's how you do that: "Scan the county's canvass report to determine what race scored the highest number of votes. ... Add the total number of votes received by the candidates (including write-ins) and divide it by the number of ballots cast. ... Subtract the number 1 from this," then move the decimal point two places to the right to get the percent undervote. Hargrove notes: "A zero undervote should be as suspicious as a double-digit one."
  • Have each student interview a political reporter (TV, print or online) from your region. How are the reporters preparing to watchdog the 2004 election returns? Have students write up the interview responses and be prepared to discuss them with the class.



STORY 4: Lobbying Juggernaut: The broadcast industry has become one of Washington's most feared economic special interests, creating more and more ethical conflicts for news outlets. And too many journalists are playing right along. By Charles Layton


Layton reports: "...broadcast journalists are routinely found at industry conventions in places like Las Vegas, mingling and talking with government policymakers about broadcasters' legislative and regulatory concerns. Many journalists let themselves be displayed at dinners and awards ceremonies before mixed crowds of advertisers, media industry lobbyists, government regulators and lawmakers. Their professional associations throw dinners in honor of the very politicians they cover. And when a polished speaker is needed to bestow an award on some key member of Congress, a TV news personality sometimes steps up to do the honors."


  • Break your class into three teams, and have each team call the news director at a local TV station. (Teams should come up with a list of questions before the interview.) Interview the news director to determine what type of limits (if any) are placed on news reporters, anchors and the station to avoid potential conflicts of interest. For instance, does the station honor the politicians or businessmen it covers with awards or dinners? Are journalists ever asked to lobby state or local politicians on issues affecting the broadcast industry? Have the teams type up the responses and report back to the class.
  • Ask students to carefully read the Radio-Television News Directors Association code of ethics (linked below) and then write a 500- to 600-word essay: Is the code sufficiently strong, or do sections need re-tooling or strengthening? What else could be done to promote integrity and independence in the profession?




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Teachers' guide written by Chris Harvey, online bureau director at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism and former managing editor of AJR.
Published Oct. 7, 2004; additional material added Oct. 8, 2004, and Oct. 20, 2004.

Copyright © 2004 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Permission is granted to freely print, for classroom use, up to 100 copies of the most up-to-date version of this document, as long as the document is not modified.