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Pressing issues

Laurence Alster reviews a video that looks behind the headlines. THE NEWS PACK. VHS video and ringbinder with photocopiable notes, Pounds 55. National Association of the Teachers of English, 50 Broadfield Road, Broadfield, Sheffield S8 OXJ.

The huge, and much-deserved hit in media and English departments that was The Advertising Pack, left its authors with a problem familiar to all who make it big in anything: follow that. Their answer is The News Pack.

At first sight, this pack appears quite as attractive as its predecessor. Rightly working on the assumption that "news media are industries whose main raison d'etre is economic competition", the authors offer a flexible scheme for exploring these industries.

Sections on the language of news, representation, newspaper readership and the newspaper industry are preceded by extensive and very helpful teachers' notes, and a number of exercises look both absorbing and instructive.

Several of these are linked to a selection of video clips, some of which students will enjoy greatly.

Take, for example, the exercise on television advertisements for national newspapers. Students watch commercials for the Guardian (including the skinhead life-saver always a favourite) and the Daily Mail, then answer questions on newspaper audience, format, and the likely tone of each publication's coverage of a major issue.

Of a similar high standard are exercises based on reading television news titles from around the world, most of which seem more fitted to announcing the Second Coming than the routine stuff that usually follows.

The video offers other, equally good opportunities, notably an ambitious and highly detailed comparison of different media coverage of a day's events.

After looking closely at several aspects of specific television news programmes graphics, interviews, links, running order and so on students next examine the following day's treatment of the same items by the national press.

Then, in "The Front Page Game", teams of students are required to choose, from several possibilities, a lead story for a designated newspaper, write a suitable headline and select appropriate pictures. A bit involved, perhaps, but well worth the trouble of organising the game.

Some non-video exercises also look promising. Teachers required to explain the significance of patterns of ownership and control (seldom the highlight of any course) will appreciate a bright "Who Owns What?" quiz, while students will have lots of instructive fun writing their own newspaper revelations, complete with editorials, of the 20-year-old John Major's dalliance with a woman 13 years his senior.

Of equal potential is an exercise in which students run news programmes sponsored by national newspapers, and reactions to some arguably racist reporting of a recent national lottery win should be interesting.

All these exercises, and many others, look eminently usable. Yet their subject matter is scarcely original. While the authors have very obviously put much effort into making the content student-friendly the material itself looks rather old news.

Still, the abundance of good (if somewhat orthodox) ideas means that most teachers will tolerate such shortcomings.

However, teachers will not so readily forgive the poor print quality of some pages and muddy photographs, for which they will have to find an especially good photocopier to reproduce.

In this respect it is sometimes as frustrating as it is occasionally very good indeed.

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