OCE team members Kelli Huth (Associate Vice President for Community Engagement) and Michelle Kinsey (Communications Manager) attended a recent journalism event at West View Elementary School. 

About 100 fifth graders were gathered in the cafeteria to listen to Ball State University journalism lecturer Kate Elliott talk about the power of storytelling and the importance of media literacy.

We asked her to share more about the event and she was kind enough to send us a recap:

We’ve been telling stories, I told them, since we’ve written on cave walls. And we will continue to crave stories and knowledge, even if the way in which we tell stories and gain information.

We talked about how stories connect and inspire us, how they provide meaning and transmit cultural values, and how they challenge us to understand worlds, lifestyles, and experiences we might never know otherwise. When we share stories through journalism, I added, we break down barriers and often inspire empathy, understanding and action.

Stories are at the heart of journalism, as reporters tell stories and share information about every aspect of our lives, through every communication channel. It’s a big responsibility because your reporting affects how people vote, how they manage their money and medical decisions, what movies they watch, where they eat, how they raise their kids and where they travel, among many other aspects of their lives.

Journalism lecturer Kate Elliott leads the students in the journalist’s oath.

Danger in a Single Story

We talked about the danger in telling and listening to a single story. Only hearing a story or information from one perspective or source can lead to stereotypes and misinformation. If you only hear stories about Mexican immigrants in gangs, for instance, you miss out on the stories about Mexicans who come to the United States to become doctors, scientists and more.

Misinformation vs. Disinformation

We talked about the difference between misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation is unintentionally getting it wrong (i.e., telling Sarah the show starts at 6 p.m. when it starts at 5 p.m. because you thought it starts at 6). Disinformation is intentionally sharing deceptive information (i.e., telling Sarah the show starts at 6 p.m. because you want her to miss the 5 p.m. show). I cautioned them against using the term “fake news” because it associates the word “fake” with “news.” Although there is disinformation disguised as news, the term “news” is often associated with informing the public for a greater good.

A Media Diet

Just like there is danger in a single story, we talked about the dangers in reading, listening or watching a single news source. Consuming content from multiple places is a big part of media literacy — or the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media. I told the students I think of media consumption as any other diet. Sure, you can eat Oreos and Cheetos, but you also need to eat proteins, fruits and vegetables to maintain a healthy diet. Similarly, if you consume a diverse rainbow of content, and you will be able to find the truth.

 I shared strategies and questions to maintain a healthy media diet:

  • Read, watch and listen to a variety of news outlets. If you’re interested in a particular topic, read, watch or listen to a variety of stories on that topic to expose yourself to a range of perspectives and voices. No one article or TV segment can provide you with all you need to know about an issue.
  • Don’t share or like information that you haven’t checked out yourself. Sharing without thinking helps spread misinformation.
  • Ask yourself questions as you read, watch or listen:
    • Who is telling the story?
    • Is there an author and/or date listed?
    • How many people are quoted (most creditable stories have three sources)?
    • Whose voice is not included?
    • Does it seem bias or one-sided?
    • Is the research and/or stats verifiable?
    • Are links working?

Everyone has a Story

I asked them whether they had ever read a book and thought, “Oh wow, I am not alone.” Everyone has a story — yes, even you, I said, and sharing those stories often connects us with others in meaningful ways.

We talked about the process: A great story starts with a great idea, and a great idea starts with listening and observing. Storytellers are curious about the world around them and ask lots of WHY questions: Why does she want to be a teacher? Why does my mom work two jobs and still struggle to pay bills? Why is it hard for me to stop playing video games?

Kelli Huth, Associate Vice President for Community Engagement, is interviewed by a West View student.

Journalism also requires lots of research. Reporters research each story idea to make sure it is a relevant and compelling topic and that it hasn’t already been told in the way they want to tell it. Conversations with people reporters call “sources” are also part of the research process, and journalists strive to talk with both professional experts and people with personal experiences related to the issues.

The best stories emerge from the best interviews, so journalists work hard to talk to people who can add heart and perspective to the story. Journalists often write out questions before they interview people, but some of the best responses happen when they ask “follow-up” questions that come from active listening. Journalists often ask questions that encourage descriptive responses: “Tell me about a time when you failed but learned from the experience” or “What were you thinking to yourself before you made that game-winning shot? Describe how you felt when the ball fell through the net.” Readers love specifics, and they make stories so much more engaging.

Student Reporters

Then, I challenged the students to become reporters. They repeated this oath: I (insert name) will:

  • Seek truth and report it.
  • Treat sources and subjects with respect.
  • Serve the public, not companies or popular opinion.
  • Write accurate, clear and fair information.
  • Check the facts, then check them again.

    Students take turns interviewing each other at West View.

Ball State journalism and strategic communications students joined me in passing out reporter notebooks and sample questions. We encouraged students to answer the questions about themselves or to interview peers at their tables. Teachers continued this exercise after they returned to classrooms, and many students interviewed parents and friends after the experience.

Rheaunna Jones said she was thrilled when her daughter, Kalea, came home excited to write, share and connect. Many of these students, Jones said, are still processing the challenges they experienced during the pandemic. Writing is a great way to explore feelings and exercise creativity.

“Kalea has a love/hate relationship with writing. Her interest must be piqued for her to put pen to paper. Kalea recently came home gushing about a writing activity, and said she wanted to use her journal more. We woke up the next morning, and she was sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast and finishing up the story she started working on the night before. She takes the journal to school and writes in her free time. It made my heart happy to see her connect with something at school so deeply.”

West View Principal Eric Ambler said guest speakers add credibility and reinforce lessons taught by teachers. Media literacy, he said, is a key skill, and it’s important to start the conversations in elementary school.

“Sometimes, expertise comes from afar (albeit just a few blocks away) and our students develop more ideas for how to apply their skills learned in the classroom and build their knowledge base- what better way to do this than through media and storytelling,” Ambler said. “When students have the opportunity to engage and be engaged in these ways, they are able to expand their understanding and interpretations of the world around them.”

Jenna Bertsch was among the Ball State students who helped facilitate the presentation and following interviewing exercise. The interviewing exercise was her favorite part of the presentation, as she talked with a handful of students about their lives and interests.

“I hope the students gained an interest in journalism, and I also hope they learned that writing,

Kate Elliott is interviewed by a student at West View.

drawing and creating are outlets and that telling our own stories and others connects us and can create empathy, which is what we need more of right now,” Bertsch said. “I also loved college students when I was their age, so I hope they felt special that I was there to connect with them and listen to their stories.”

The junior public relations major said she is increasingly focused on getting out into the Muncie community.

“This has been something that has been on my mind a lot this semester. Muncie is a temporary home for thousands of young adults every year. Muncie locals must deal with this influx of people for nine months of the year and then the decline of people during the summer,” she said. “What all of us at Ball State need to wonder is, what are we doing to make Muncie better? We could all be doing so much more for Ball State WHILE learning things for our major — just like we’ve been doing in Kate’s class.”

Students who never get out into Muncie during their time here are missing out, she added.

“Muncie is a wonderful community of people. I’m so glad Kate pushed us to get out of our comfort zones and connect with residents and events happening in the area. It’s enriched my life, and I’ve gotten to make an impact through my classwork,” she said.

Thanks so much, Kate, for sharing! If you are interested in Kate Elliott and her students giving a media literacy presentation or facilitating storytelling exercises, please email her at kelliott@bsu.edu.