Lesson Plans

How to Tell Under-Reported Stories with Photography

Image by Melissa Bunni Elian, edit by Claire Seaton. South Africa, 2017.

Objective:

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to...

  • Evaluate how they get their news, what stories they seek, why news is important, and questions they have about how the news is made
  • Define the term “under-reported story” and describe examples of these stories
  • Analyze how photography can be used to tell stories
  • Identify the process that photojournalists follow to capture truthful and compelling images 
  • Practice methods for using photography to communicate stories and ideas

Warm-up: 

1. Brainstorm a definition for the word news. How does your definition compare to the dictionary definition below?

2. How do you get most of your news? 

  • Newspapers/magazines
  • TV
  • Internet/apps
  • Radio
  • Other

3. News outlets publish their news using all the different methods above. Make a list:

  • Which news outlets (newspapers, tv shows, websites, etc.) do you check to get your news? Compare your answers with this list from the Pew Research Center of the most widely read news websites in 2010! What are examples of stories you would see on the news? 

3. Imagine you met someone today who has not looked at the news in over a week. Based on what you have heard about in the news over the last week, write your responses to the following:

  • What are the top three things a person needs to know about what is happening in the world this week? 
  • How did you learn about these issues?

4. Respond to the following either alone or in discussion with a small group:

  • What stories do you see the most in the news? 
  • How might the stories you chose differ from the stories someone else in your class might choose? Or in your family? Or from someone in another part of the world?
  • What is something that you think is important, but that you don’t see much about in the news?
  • Why do you think news outlets choose to feature some stories more than others?

5. An under-reported story is a news story that doesn’t get as much attention in the news. Predict:

  • Look back to your responses for question 5. Why do you think news outlets are focusing on these stories, and not others?
  • Why are some news stories receiving less attention? Try to think of at least three reasons!

6. The Pulitzer Center is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to supporting under-reported stories. The Center supports projects in over 100 news outlets every year on a wide range of topics. Watch the video below, which features Pulitzer Center editors and journalists, and compare your predictions about why some stories receive less attention to their responses.

7. After viewing the video, write your response the following on a separate sheet of paper:

  • According to the speakers in the video, what is an under-reported story?
  • How are under-reported news stories different from other news stories? Reference examples from the video in your description.
  • How can you find under-reported stories, in the news and in your own communities?

Introducing the Skill: Telling stories with photography

Once journalists have an idea for an under-reported story, there are a lot of ways that they can communicate the story. Some journalists use words to write articles, some take photos and capture an image that tells a story, some use video, and some combine several methods into one.

Journalists who use photos to tell stories are called photojournalists. What questions do they ask before getting started? How do they plan their images to tell a story? How do they make sure their images pop? In this lesson, you’ll explore these questions while connecting with Pulitzer Center grantees who are professional photojournalists, and apply these new skills to under-reported stories you want to tell.

In the video below, photojournalists Melissa Bunni Elian and Pablo Albarenga will share how they capture compelling and accurate images to tell stories.

1. Watch the video and think about how you can use the following tips to capture stories yourself.

  • Plan and research your story in advance
  • Make connections with the people and places you want to photograph—ask questions and get to know people and places
  • Compose interesting photos with a clear message or emotional content
  • Choose, or put together, images that tell the story you want to tell

2. After watching the video, write your responses to the following questions on a separate sheet of paper: 

  • What questions can you ask yourself as you’re planning the story you want to tell?
  • What under-reported stories did Albarenga and Elian investigate? Why?
  • When Elian and Albarenga begin their photography journeys, they don’t start by taking photos. How do they begin their process and why?
    • What are some questions that they ask their subjects before taking pictures?
  • What is a portrait? Why did Elian choose to take portraits for her project?
  • Albarenga says that photojournalists have a great “responsibility”—what does he mean by that? 
  • According to Albarenga and Elian, what are some ways that you can make your images look more interesting?
  • What questions do Elian and Albarenga mention that you can ask yourself to help brainstorm stories to tell in your own home? Make a list.

Analyze Photos: What's the story?

Now, we’re going to look at photo projects referenced in the video by Elian and Albarenga and answer the following questions: How does the journalist capture themes and ideas central to their story? What photography techniques does the journalist employ to capture dynamic images? Is the journalist successful in capturing their story?

For Elian and Albarenga's projects, visit each link and explore the photography before answering the questions.

"The Globalization of AFROPUNK" by Melissa Bunni Elian

After hosting shows in Brooklyn, Paris, London, and Atlanta in 2017, AFROPUNK, an American music festival, debuted in Johannesburg, South Africa for the first on the continent. More than a celebration of alternative black music, AFROPUNK is a social and political movement rooted in an “African spirit and heritage” that centers around an ethos of championing social underdogs.

  1. How does Melissa Bunni Elian communicate themes such as celebration, music, Black heritage in the photo? Be specific, what elements do you notice?
  2. Choose one image from the story to answer the following questions. Write down: 
    • Can you tell what angle (for example: from above, below, the side) she’s holding the camera from? How far away is she?
    • What does the image focus on?
  3. How successfully does Elian capture the story that she set out to tell at AFROPUNK? Explain.

"Seeds of Resistance" by Pablo Albarenga

Photojournalist Pablo Albarenga’s project “Seeds of Resistance” highlights the plight of Indigenous land defenders in Brazil…Albarenga says that most of the land defenders deaths happened in Brazil, “with 57 assassinations; 80% … against people defending the Amazon.” While Albarenga acknowledges that the data about these deaths illuminates what he feels is an alarming situation, it doesn’t do enough; he wants to give a face to the situation. He hopes the images in his project will help to magnify the reasons these men and women, who see themselves as seeds of resistance, have decided to defend their land.

  1. How does Pablo Albarenge communicate the humanity of land defenders and why they are resisting in the photos? Be specific, what elements do you notice?
  2. Choose one image from the story to answer the following questions. Write down:
    • Can you tell what angle (for example: from above, below, the side) he’s holding the camera from? How far away is he?
    • What does the image focus on?
  3. How successfully does Albarenga capture the story that he set out to tell in the Amazon? Explain. 

Now, let’s look at a few more examples, but this time you won’t know in advance what story the photojournalist is trying to tell, only the title of the project. This time, visit the link to view only the images from the project (none of the accompanying text besdies the title) before answering the questions. 

"Portraits of a Pandemic" by Errin Haines and David Maialetti

  1. After reading the project title and looking at the images, make a prediction: what do you think that Haines and Maialetti are trying to communicate with these images?
    • What pops?
    • Based on what you see, what is the under-reported story that they’re communicating?
  2. Here is a description of the project:

Across every aspect of daily life, from education, health care and employment to food, faith and housing, women and people of color are being disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. Inequality is exacerbated in a crisis, a reality on full display in Philadelphia, the poorest big city in America.

To better understand the toll the coronavirus pandemic is taking on women, The 19th and The Philadelphia Inquirer profile women in Philadelphia as they grapple with how to confront—and overcome—this unprecedented challenge.

  1. How does the photojournalist communicate that in the photos? Be specific. What elements do you notice?
  2. Choose one image from the story to answer the following questions. Write down:
    • Can you tell what angle (for example: from above, below, the side) Maialetti is holding the camera from? How far away is he?
    • What does the image focus on?
  3. What strategies did Haines and Maialetti use to compose photos that communicate these stories? Why do you think they used these strategies?

"The New Faces of 'Gayropa'" by Bradley Secker

  1. After reading the project title and looking at the images, make a prediction: what do you think that Secker is trying to communicate with these images?
    • What pops?
    • Based on what you see, what is the under-reported story that he’s communicating?
  2. Here is a description of the project:

For reasons connected with their sexuality and/or gender identity, many individuals seek political and humanitarian refuge in European countries. This project examines how this minority within a minority is forming a sense of community, challenging stereotypes, and fighting racism and xenophobia simultaneously. 

  1. How does the photojournalist communicate that in the photos? Be specific, what elements do you notice?
  2. Choose one image from the story to answer the following questions. Write down:
    • Can you tell what angle Secker is holding the camera from? How far away is he?
    • What does the image focus on?
  3. What strategies did Secker use to compose photos that communicate these stories? Why do you think he used these strategies?

Practice: Tell stories around you!

In the video, Albarenga and Elian offer tips on ways that you can capture stories from home. Go back to earlier in the lesson to the list you made of questions that you can ask yourself as you embark on a storytelling project from home—they’ll help guide you through the exercises below.

Below, there are two different options to practice telling stories around you. Choose at least one of them. When you’re done, we’d love to see your work—please send it to education@puiltzercenter.org if you’d like to see your work on our website. 

Activity 1: Compose original photography

For this exercise, create a photo essay that tells the story of your home using images of either people (portraits) or of objects.

In the video, Elian says that we can learn a lot from what objects are in a home or a place and where they’re placed, so use the following questions from the video to get started brainstorming objects that you could photograph:

  • What is something people need to see to understand your family, or your home?

Also in the video, Albarenga explains some tools for getting fresh perspectives from people that you can photograph, even people that you know really well. If you’re photographing your parents, for example, you can ask them about:

  • Their childhood/youth
  • Their dreams
  • Important stories from their lives that they have never shared with you

To get started after brainstorming, Elian says to “Pretend you are a stranger and see everything new.”  That could be a great place to start. Once you have a few objects and/or portraits in mind, follow the steps that Elian and Albarenga outlined in the video:

  1. Plan and research your story in advance
  2. Make connections with the people and places you want to photograph (ask questions and get to know people and places)
  3. Compose compelling photos with a clear message
  4. Choose  images that tell the story you want 

Activity 2: Create composite images

From the video, you saw that it’s possible to tell powerful stories by putting photos together. Whether they’re photos that you took yourself or that you found, in this exercise you’ll follow Albarenga’s process for putting photos together into one image in order to convey a deeper story. 

Here is why Albarenga said he chose to put two images together: “I put two different images together into one because I wanted to create a strong connection between the land defenders and their territories. So I put together the portraits of the land defenders and images of the land they defend. Together, the two images express that relationship.”

Brainstorm: In your home or in your community, do you see that kind of connection between two people, between a person and a place or an object? Or between two places or two objects? Once you have some ideas for connections to explore, think about what images you have available to you. Think about photo albums, magazines, or the Internet. 

Once you have a selection of images, create a composite or collage using at least two images that creates a strong connection between the subjects of the pictures you choose. 

Once you have your image(s), do one of the following:

  1. Place your images next to each other on a flat surface, and take a picture on your phone or other camera device. 
  2. Paste the images onto a sheet of paper, and scan the image so that you create an electronic file
  3. Use a computer program like Google Slides, Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, or others to digitally create your composite by placing the images where you’d like them on the screen.

Extension Activities: 

Option 1: Embark on a reporting project

You’ve applied your new photojournalism skills at home, and now you’re ready to apply them to another project: an under-reported story of your choice. It can be in your home, your school, your community, or anywhere you’d like to learn more about. 

If you don’t already have an idea for an under-reported story like what you learned about in the warm-up, use this lesson to guide you to look for under-reported stories in different places. 

Once you have your topic, use the following steps to guide you to completing your photojournalism project:

  1. Like Elian and Albarenga, research your story in advance. 
    • Ask yourself: what story do you want to tell?
    • How has this issue been reported on before?
  2. Make connections with the people and places you want to photograph—ask questions to get to know people and places. 
  3. Compose interesting photos with a clear message or emotional content
    • Think: what kinds of different perspectives can you incorporate?
  4. Choose, or put together, images that tell the story you want. 
    • Ask yourself: How will people viewing the images feel about the story?

We’d love to see your finished photo essay, so send it to education@pulitzercenter.org for us to put on our website. 

Option 2: Explore the world through photography

Explore other Pulitzer Center-supported photojournalists’ work, and create original work inspired by their reporting. From the following list of projects and stories, find one that interests you and browse it with an eye for the photographs or visit pulitzercenter.org/projects to explore further. 

Consider what draws you to certain stories or images—what is it about them that connects with you? What do you feel is particularly strong in that image? The story it tells? The composition? The colors? 

Select an image from one of the listed reporting projects that you’re drawn to. Now, either ‘recreate’ the image at home or in your community or create a piece of original work that’s inspired by the image. It can be a photo you take, a combination of photos you have or can find, or any other type of visual art. 

Send your work to education@pulitzercenter.org for us to feature, and be sure to include the photojournalist’s name and their original project title or link. 

Educator Notes: 

This lesson is aligned with the following Common Core standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7
Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2
Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6
Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

These instructions are designed with individual and group reflection for students. This lesson is one of a series of lessons produced by Pulitzer Center staff and journalists on media literacy and reporting skills. For more information on those lessons and/or to connect a Pulitzer Center virtual visit to your classroom, contact education@pulitzercenter.org.

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