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What college students think of fake Pelosi video

Updated: May 31, 2019


Kate McLaughlin's mass media class was held in a computer lab at El Camino College. (Photo by Ryan Cooper)

I didn’t have to travel far for my final class observation – just two floors. Kate McLaughlin’s second class of the day was J12 – Mass Media and Society.

This class was held in a computer lab, though the students didn’t log in to the computers; they just sat at the desks. Again, Kate logged in to her computer and displayed the screen on an overhead monitor.

This was a much larger class with 16 students in attendance. The computer lab environment did not seem ideal for this setting, though it is possible that they used the computers in previous class assignments.

She began the class by doing a check of the news. She consulted the Los Angeles Times because she wanted to encourage students to pay for a digital subscription to the paper. She logged in and noted she pays for her paper.

They scrolled through the local section, and students raised their hands and offered interesting stories they had seen. One particular story was a big talker: a worker in New York claims she was fired after donating her kidney to help save her boss’ life. It’s an incredible claim, and some people thought it was fake news, but the story was on multiple outlets.

Another student noted that ABC News and the local ABC affiliate ABC 7 have been running a lot of stories on the new Stars Wars Galaxy’s Edge attraction at Disneyland. The student observed that Disney owns ABC, and it seems like just free promotion for one of their corporate interests. I was impressed that the student picked up on that, as it is a valid issue.

Kate had the class analyze the merits of the Disneyland story using the “7 Elements of Newsworthiness,” which they had discussed in previous classes. These news values give journalists – and other storytellers – a means of making smarter content choices. She asked them to recall the elements, and she wrote them on the dry erase board:

  • Timeliness

  • Impact

  • Proximity

  • Prominence

  • Human interest

  • Unusual/the bizarre

  • Conflict

In assessing the Disneyland attraction story, the students agreed it ticked all the boxes except the last two, so ABC was right to report on it. However, the amount of time the news stations devoted at the expense of other stories is a legitimate source of debate and criticism. I thought this was an excellent example for the class to understand the role that corporate interests and commercial expectations play in determining news coverage.

Kate then switched to the recent controversy over the fake Nancy Pelosi video, which President Trump and others have tweeted out. She played Anderson Cooper’s CNN interview with the VP of Facebook, who defended the social media giant’s decision not to remove the fake video. Facebook claims it is not a news company. She had the class debate this topic, and then she brought up some polling from Pew that suggests about one-in-four people get their news from social media sites.

One interesting observation: she noted that she maintains a class Facebook group and will post items to the group page to facilitate social media discussion after class. I thought this was an interesting way to encourage learning outside of the classroom in a format that is friendly to the students’ age demographic.

I was also very encouraged to see that El Camino College has a bespoke journalism department. After the classes, Kate gave me a tour of The Union’s newsroom, which was filled with iMac computers and other multimedia equipment. Outside the journalism wing, there is a big display case with old newspapers, awards, and other memorabilia. She said the college offers several classes in writing, photojournalism, and reporting.


Final Thoughts

I enjoyed my visits to the three campuses. Each had their own advantages. UCLA is the biggest campus, with an international profile and the resources of a large public institution. However, the classroom environment for this particular course was not state-of-the-art. That said, the teaching was excellent, and that one classroom can in no way represent the totality of UCLA’s learning environments. In particular, as was the case when I got my undergraduate degree from Indiana University, class sizes were large, and the teacher-to-student ratio was high.

On the other hand, LMU’s classroom was high-tech and comfortable. Everything from the lighting to the technology was modern. With only 12 students, the instructor was better able to get to know everyone in the class. The campus was much smaller and easier to navigate, but it was not as pretty as UCLA. I didn’t notice any particular Jesuit teaching ethos, either.

Finally, El Camino surprised me in both its size and course offerings. I think it serves an essential niche in higher education, allowing students who may not fit in the four-year college plan, or who may not be able to afford it, a chance at important career skills and an associate degree. The classrooms were relatively modern, and the students were certainly not losing out on any educational opportunities, it did not seem.

In terms of teaching styles, UCLA offered the traditional Ph. D.-credentialed professor in a seminar format. This was a flashback to my undergraduate experience. I found the approaches at LMU and El Camino to be very different: they were more interactive, less structured in terms of presentation, and more of a free-for-all. As such, they seemed less formal. As a vocational instructor, I would see myself veering more towards the latter two styles of teaching – and less of a cerebral lecture approach.

Upon completion of my master’s degree, I could easily see myself teaching a journalism course at El Camino in my spare time. It is literally around the corner from my home. LMU is also building up its journalism program from the ground-up, so I imagine there will be many new opportunities there, too.



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