The News and the Good News
Analyzing Media through the Lens of Catholic Social Teaching
Who told you about Hurricane Katrina? How were you made aware of the devastation, the loss of human life and the fact that emergency evacuation plans did not include adequate provisions for moving poor, elderly, and other particularly vulnerable people to safe locations? Most of what the world knows about the hurricane and the devastating effects on people living in the Gulf region comes from various news sources. The news informs us and forms us throughout our lives, not just during natural disasters. In turn, our response to tragedy is formed in part by what we read or see on television. How are we and how are our children being formed by the “news”? How do we put the “news” into conversation with the “Good News” of our faith? How can we use our faith as we process the news and articulate our response to a crisis?
Catholic social teaching tells us that the media “should serve the common good” according to the late Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter for the 37th World Communications Day. In that same document he notes that the media’s role in justice work relies on accuracy and truth in reporting and a “mature exercise of freedom and responsibility.” Human dignity can be advanced or oppressed by the media. Those who work with young people should pay special attention to his words regarding “formation, participation, and dialogue.” Increasingly, people turn to media for guidelines rather than to church or other institutions. The various media outlets both reflect our culture and shape our culture. We are called upon to teach our students and children how to critically analyze what they’re reading in newspapers and magazines and seeing on television. The role of media in our lives depends upon our intelligent and faith-filled response to it. Young people need guidance in choosing their sources of information and in bringing information gained into dialogue with others and with their faith tradition.
Referring to Pope John XXIII’s encyclical, Pacem in Terris in his apostolic letter, Pope John Paul II notes that media can become “a powerful resource for good if used to foster understanding between peoples; a destructive ‘weapon’ if used to foster injustice and conflicts. On a local as well as a national and a global level, news media can bring us closer to responsible participation, to seeing human dignity in all persons, working in solidarity, identifying the common good and carrying a preferential option for the poor and the vulnerable in our hearts.
You can access the full text of the Apostolic Letter addressing those in communication at:
Pacem in Terris is available at
To prepare yourself for the classroom activity below or to devise activities and projects of your own in teaching media literacy check out at least a few of these websites keeping the values of Catholic social teaching in mind as you do so:
Catholic Social Teaching Values
The Peace and Justice Office of the Joliet Diocese offers a brief overview of the 7 core values of Catholic social teaching at http://www.paxjoliet.org/justeach/justeach2.html
Websites for News Analysis
Some of these sites have activities nicely prepared for easy use in a classroom. Others offer information allowing teachers to incorporate the ideas into various subject areas.
This website of the AMLA (Alliance for a Media Literate America) has many activities easily adaptable for high school and middle school groups. In particular, lessons 1, 4 and 6 regarding basic analysis of media, the language used in various reports, and what actions students could take after analysis offer several opportunities for discussion and longer term projects.
The Center of Concerns site on popular culture lists the following sites for learning more about media literacy.
Mainstream Media has sections pertaining to global issues as well as sections focused on media in the United States.
This Canadian site, The Media Awareness Network, offers activities and information for children, parents, and teachers. Some of the material is geared toward early elementary grade levels, others provide material for older students.
http://www.medialit.org/reading_room/article95.html The Center for Media Literacy offers a wide range of material ranging from current “in-the-news’ topics to discussions about violence in general as presented in the media.
Other sites offer further resources
http://www.crscampusconnection.org/Advocate.Faith.Citizen/advocate.5.html Catholic Relief Services “Campus Connection” features prayer and activity regarding media and Catholic social teaching.
Another resource useful for classroom teachers in analyzing the language used by the media and in our personal conversations is JustLanguage, a publication of the Eighth Day Center for Justice Their links for media analysis, however, are for an adult audience and not aimed at middle or high school students although teachers may find some of the information helpful in understanding the scope of media illiteracy.
Responding to the news
As we respond through corporal works of mercy to the many needs of the hurricane’s victims, we must remember that being the heart of Christ means living out of our hope, out of our vision for a better world. Christ is our hope. Although we cannot control nature or the power of hurricanes and other storms, we can analyze and improve our ways of responding to such disasters. We can develop eyes of faith to see the vulnerable in our midst. Many reports claimed that the preparations for the storm ignored the poor and the elderly. What are we to do with this news of injustice? How important is it to choose good, reliable news sources? How do we analyze news media through the lens of Catholic social teaching; how do we analyze through the heart of Christ? Catholic social teaching helps us to keep Christ-centered, focused on the Good News, even as we read or view the bad news!
Classroom discussion : (Some pertain to the news reporting surrounding Hurricane Katrina, others are more general. The information from the above mentioned sites offer many more suggestions.) Discussions could be in small groups or as a class.
News articles and photos from magazines and newspapers
A list of the core values of Catholic social teaching
A list of questions from below or from one or more of the sites mentioned earlier
-Can news reporting be “truthful” and “accurate” and still be detrimental to human dignity? (Where might a reporter’s questions or camera be an intrusion?)
-Is it important to analyze the news itself in terms of how it is reported as well as the event or issue being reported?
-How might being a “business” impact the way news is reported by any given news media?
-Did the reporting you encountered reveal elements of solidarity? Of the common good?
Of the preferential option for the poor? Of full responsible participation by all persons? Or the lack of these values?
-Where did we encounter human dignity in the midst of the storm?
-Where did we see injustice?
-Are the injustices being reported “new” or did the aftermath of the storm show us what had been hidden from our sight?
-In the various reports you encountered, were the victims of the storm quoted or pictured as often as visiting celebrities? Government officials? Does this matter? What values of Catholic social teaching might help us decide? Which voices were allowed to participate in the news reporting?
-Was there a preferential option for the poor and the vulnerable in the emergency planning? In the aftermath of the storm? Does it appear (from what you’ve heard or seen) that those who were most vulnerable participated in the planning efforts?
-The needs of those in shelters due to hurricane related reasons are echoed in the needs of those in shelters for other reasons in all parts of the United States. Why don’t we see “news” of this great need in our daily news?
-How might we use the “news” regarding this recent disaster to express our hope, our prophetic vision of the future? What do we need to do differently in our emergency planning and in our everyday lives?
-Did different news sources report the events differently? Were the facts different or just the manner of presentation?
-Why might we consider consulting more than one news source when trying to learn about an issue or event? Where do you get your news?
-As viewers and readers of the “news” do we have responsibilities as believers in the “Good News”? List some of them.
Longer term projects:
Have students cut out articles and pictures from news related to the hurricane and its devastating impact on the people of the Gulf region. Ask your students to complete one or more of the following options:
-Create a reflection and prayer journal response to each item. Include any questions you have that weren’t answered in the news article.
-Arrange the items on pages/posterboards under the headings of the core values of CST. Use the pictures to either show how the value was present in that particular news article or how the news revealed a disregard of it.
-Use actual quotes from those people who survived the storm and create a short reflection piece that you’d like to see aired on television or radio.
-Create a litany that might be included in a classroom prayer or at the family table using a response to all the quotes such as “Lord, give us the hope and courage to change the world” or “Loving Lord, have mercy on us” or another such response.
-Keep a news/Good News bulletin board feature going in your classroom to use the core values of Catholic social teaching as a framework in analyzing both news reporting and the event/issue being reported.
Remind your students that prayer goes hand in hand with our justice work. Share the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila and point out that the corporal works of mercy involve our whole being. As the heart of Christ we move in faith, hope and charity through our world. We are called to prophetic vision, called to name injustice and to change the world.
We are the hands of Christ,
Where we work he works.
We are the feet of Christ,
Where we go he goes.
We are the heart of Christ,
Where we love he loves,
Where we are, Christ is. Amen
The following link offers a youth group prayer service in response to a national disaster. Teachers can use it as is, shorten it, adapt it or borrow from it and use music of their choice. Perhaps some of the activities above could be worked into this prayer service.
http://www.youthspecialties.com/store/freebies/uncommon_prayer/uncommon_prayer_tragedy.pdf Be sure you scroll down to see their entire offering, their arrangement of Psalm 46 in angry and calm voices is unusual and might appeal to your students.
To encourage hope in your students and to promote a discussion of hope’s role in living from the heart of our faith, ask them to look for quotes about “hope” and bring them to share. If they are keeping journals ask them to look for various quotes throughout the year and reflect upon them. Put the catechism definition on the board for them. Have them define hope in their own words. Or post some of the following in your classroom for students to consider:
“and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Romans 5:5
“..it is Christ in you, the hope for glory” Col 1:27
“I need Your sense of the future. Teach me to know that life is ever on the side of the future. Keep alive in me the future look, the high hope. Let me not be frozen either by the past or the present. Grant me, O Patient One, Your sense of the future without which all life would sicken and die.” Howard Thurman
"If you do not hope, you will not find what is beyond your hopes." Saint Clement of Alexandria
“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” Barbara Kingsolver
"Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise." Maya Angelou
"Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all." Emily Dickinson
“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” Pope John XXIII.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.” Albert Einstein
“Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“ The basic attitude of hope, on the one hand encourages the Christian not to lose sight of the final goal which gives meaning and value to life, and on the other, offers solid and profound reasons for a daily commitment to transform reality in order to make it correspond to God's plan.” Pope John Paul II
Even as our hearts are saddened by the news reports of the loss of human life, of assaults on human dignity, of hunger and thirst in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, hope keeps us afloat. Hope keeps us going even when we don’t know where or how to go or when the world’s burdens weigh us down. We can’t stop a hurricane but we can envision a way to end poverty, despair and injustice in this world. St. Augustine, in speaking of hope’s role in looking at the future, compared hope to an egg laid by a bird in that the young bird is present, but yet to be seen. Hope has an element of the future in it, the coming of a just and peaceful world. The virtue of hope plays a key role in our living out the values of Catholic social teaching in that our prophetic vision relies on hope, a gift from God, to point us toward the fullness of Christ, to keep us centered in Christ. Catholic social teaching gives us the language of vision that keeps us from drowning in despair, remaining in darkness and indifferent to the injustices we see in the world. Making sure we choose reliable sources of information and dialoguing with others as we’re learning makes us participants, not merely spectators, in the world. Being centered in Christ means living in hope, in the fullness of the promises of Christ, and not accepting what we’ve seen revealed on the news in terms of poverty, racism and injustice as being the only possible vision of the world.
Here are some dates to consider when planning CST discussions. Some offer moments to look at other traditions and to discuss dialogue as an avenue to peace. Events too can open exploration of Catholic social teaching values. One event in particular, Columbus Day, provides an inroad into looking at centuries of injustice in the Americas. Finally, using the saints as models of prayer provides opportunities to stress the importance of prayer and nurturing our spirituality in justice work.
Oct 1 International Day of Older Persons
Oct 2 World Communion Sunday
Oct 15 St. Teresa of Avila
Peace and blessings,