As students develop their critical-thinking skills through completion of their coursework, they’ll also be better prepared to evaluate the information (or misinformation) presented in the television programs they watch and the publications that they read on a regular basis. However, learning to discern the meaning behind the message can take practice, especially if they’re used to viewing this material simply as “entertainment.”

In his book Becoming a Critical Thinker, Eighth Edition, Vincent Ryan Ruggiero offers a number of exercises that guide students through the process of applying their critical-thinking skills as they watch and read information that comes to them via the mass media. In the following activities selected from the text, students will examine television shows, magazine articles, and newspaper editorials and consider them with a critical eye. Once they’ve completed these three exercises, they’ll have a good idea of how they can use their critical-thinking skills as they watch and read other shows, articles, and bits of information that come to them via the popular media.

Skim the television talk show listings. Then select a show and watch it. Analyze what you saw, answering these and any other relevant questions:

  • What was the show’s theme or discussion topic?
  • What fields did the guests represent: show business, education, particular professions, or others? Are the guests associated with specific attitudes, values, or behaviors? If so, describe those attitudes, values, or behaviors.
  • Why did each guest appear on the show? For example, an author may have published a new book or an actress may have starred in a just released film.
  • What kinds of questions did the host ask? Professional questions? Personal questions? Questions that seemed outside the person’s expertise?
  • Were any specific attitudes and values encouraged? If so, what were they?
  • How much time did the host allow for each answer? Did the guest have an opportunity to elaborate on answers? How much time was devoted to each guest?
  • How many times was the discussion interrupted by commercial breaks?

Finally, write a composition of at least several paragraphs, focusing on this question: Would regular viewing of talk shows like the one you watched be good preparation for the probing discussions conducted in college classrooms? (177-178)

Examine the current editions of several newsmagazines, such as Time and U.S. News and World Report, or one written from a particular ethnic perspective. Select a single news item and compare the treatment it is given in each magazine. Decide which magazine’s treatment is most biased and which is least biased. Support your findings. Present your decision and explanation. (184)

Choose the largest newspaper in your area or a newspaper serving a large audience, such as USA Today. Read the main editorial of the day. Also read any news story mentioned in the editorial. Then answer the following questions:

  • What position does the editor take on the issue? What support does he or she offer for this position?
  • What other positions could be taken on the issue? How might those positions be supported? Before answering these questions, you may wish to research the issue by visiting the library or interviewing experts.
  • What are the editorial’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What position is most reasonable in light of the evidence? Present your response in a composition of at least several paragraphs. Another option is to write your response as a letter to the editor. If you do this, consider sending the letter to the newspaper. (185) 

Reference: Ruggiero, V.R. 2015. Becoming a Critical Thinker, 8th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

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