Media Literacy 101

Deconstructing the News Lead

As media consumers we watch the news, listen to it on the radio or read about it in the newspaper.  We may react to a story positively or negatively but we don’t think much about how the news is put together.  Who decides what event or issue is worth covering?  What sources does the news media rely on and who decides what questions to ask those sources?  How is all that information condensed into nice neat little audio or video packages that often must fit into the short time allotted between commercial breaks?  The goal of this class is to get students to think about what it means to produce the news as well as to give them some of the most basic skills they’ll need to become radio producers.


  • Students will identify the parts of a newscast and learn some of the basic vocabulary of radio production.
  • Students will identify the kinds of stories students will be expected to produce for the Grassroots Media Project.
  • Students will identify and deconstruct the “lead” in a variety of news stories.

Materials Needed


The class instructor should give an introduction to the Grassroots Media Production radio class:  what we hope student will get out of it and what we hope they’ll contribute to Grassroots Media and the Empower DC campaigns.  It would probably be a good idea to play at least one example of something that’s been produced by a radio student.  At the end of this, students should be asked to identify the Empower DC campaign they want to cover and a specific issue that they would like to use to produce a radio segment.

Identify the different parts of a newscast using a transcript from one of the sources provided. Pass out a basic vocabulary list and as you go through the parts of the newscast identify the basic vocabulary.  Highlight the words that you’ll be using most–lead, feature, actuality, etc.

Students should find two news stories on the Internet, one from a radio program and the other from a newspaper or a press agency.   Ask them to read the lead for each story out loud.  The lead is generally the first paragraph of a news report that concisely provides the main facts (who, what, where, when, why and how) of the story.  The radio story should be an easier read because it was written to be read aloud.  Next students should break down the leads for each story by answering in their own words the questions, who, what, where, and when.

Being able to succinctly state the lead to the stories that they are covering is a basic step that radio producers must do repeatedly.  Getting into the habit of identifying leads within the news stories that you hear, watch or read is good practice.  Finally, students should find the answers to the following questions.

  • How whatever the story is about happened?
  • Why whatever the story is about happened?
  • What does it mean for the people who are affected?

These questions are more complicated.  Their answers may or may not be found in the lead. Depending on your source and the length of your piece, they may not be answered at all.  Corporate-owned news sources don’t always attempt to answer these questions because they fear being accused of bias or because they do not want to offend or implicate corporate or government alliances.  Neither the Grassroots Media Project nor Empower DC has any corporate or government alliances.  We also believe revealing why things are as they are, how they got that way, who and how people are affected are just as important as who, what, where and when.  When you are preparing the leads for the news stories that you will produce, try to include some of those questions and answers.