Helping young people to critically “read” the news is crucial if we are to develop a society that can make sense of unfolding events. Increasingly, children are disengaged from “reliable” mainstream news organisation and instead use partisan or unsubstantiated sources for their information about current affairs and the world around them.
The News that Defined Us, a website that I produced for Tyneside Cinema, unlocks the process of making the news and allows young people to interrogate the production behind the stories. By providing first-hand access to the media ‘machine’, the project helps to re-engage young people in this crucial form of communication.
The strength of News that Defined Us is the personal and intimate experiences associated with news production. The project brings together broadcast journalists, eyewitnesses and schoolchildren from Whickam School in plenary sessions where the young people can quiz the adults. Taking recent stories as a starting point, the makers and subjects of the news talk to students about their experiences and implicitly reveal the effects of representation, censorship and bias.
The opportunity to question professionals is enormously valuable but difficult to scale. The News that Defined Us project captures the experience of the school question-and-answer sessions and disaggregates them to create a rich interactive library. The shared legacy is a website where guest sessions are organised according to curriculum subject and theme. The site provides archived copies of related broadcast material and interactive questions to recreate the school events. By organising the content into themes, it provides a lasting resource that powerfully illustrates the principles and issues in topics such as conflict, culture and human rights.
Renowned BBC broadcasters such as Kate Adie and Alistair Leithead spoke of their experiences in the UK, Washington, China and Afghanistan. Their experiences were complemented by visitors such as Private Scott Cooper (a teenage soldier who lost his leg by stepping on an IED), PC David Rathband (a police officer blinded by the killer Raoul Moat) and Councillor Stephen Bridget (a local politician).
From twenty sessions, the project run by Tyneside Cinema created over 200 interactive questions to support thirty hours of broadcast news footage. The site provides a unique resource both for teachers and students. Its structure helps educators include this rich media into their lessons while the design encourages young people to explore issues more deeply.
Today the project is launched at the Houses of Parliament in the illustrious company of Tom Watson MP, the terrier-like politician who has pursued the immoral journalists and corrupt management of the British Press, his fellow committee member Damian Collins, Blaydon MP Dave Anderson and our Bridget Phillipson MP. It is an auspicious start to website that I hope helps young people think more critically about the news that defines them.