Gaming for Abstinence or How To Be A Smarter News Viewer

BlogHer Original Post

The news anchors introduced the abstinence game story implying a possible waste of taxpayer dollars. So what’s the problem? Much of the information presented in the news report is inaccurate.

This is the video from the Orlando Fox News station.

I had my preconceived notions all ready to whip out and wave in the air. I was ready to line up the abstinence and full sexual education blogs.

The more I thought about it, though, something was not right. I know that video games are very expensive to produce. I also know that the technology in the movie Avatar is currently possible for consumers.

Kim Pearson wrote about the news media’s failure of basic research on the Shirley Sherrod story was also nattering in my head.

With a little research and asking questions this is what I found.

Bait and Switch Introduction

Slotted in the "It’s Your Money" segment, the news anchors introduced the story as federal tax dollars being spent on a video game. That is a valid story idea to pursue. Except that the report was on abstinence video game targeted to preteen girls.

If the news report focused on how this specific government expense was wasteful, then it would have been a valid introduction.

The federal government has funded abstinence education since 1996. How much federal money has been spent on abstinence education? That information shouldn’t be that hard to find out for a news organization.

If the news anchors had introduced the story as an unusual way to provide preteen girls a method to gain skills to combat peer pressure, it would have been more accurate. Not as titillating, but more connected to the story presented.

Main Point of the Story

For some of us watching the report, we thought the girls had to wear motion suit to play the game. I looked at the images presented of the avatars and questioned what decade was this game designed -- it looked clunky and antiquated.

I found that the University of Central Florida issued a press release about the project. The university gave the reason for the grant and the actual target population for the game to be Latina, preteen girls.

This was information not presented in the news story.

In the press release, which needed to be a tad clearer, the girls do not wear the motion suit. The preteens would be in an environment where they will interact with a “puppeteer” who will present the girls with examples and techniques on how not to be pressured into sex.

Carol King at Ms. Magazine’s blog contacted Anne Norris, Ph.D at the university since she was featured in the news report. Dr. Norris explained that what was presented in the FOX News story was not accurate:

The game is designed as part of an ‘Abstinence Plus’ program that is paired with a full sex education curriculum. It is really all about empowering middle school girls. If you want to delay onset of sex for girls who are likely to be sexually active, it’s not ‘Just Say No.’

This fact was omitted from the televised news story. Abstinence was a component of the education, not the entire focus.

How Did the Story Get Jacked Up?

Let me say that this isn’t really about FOX News, although they do seem to be habitual offenders. Lately it seems as if broadcast and cable news sites have dropped the credibility ball.

One problem is that mainstream news media still does not understand how to ethically and responsibly report in this time of Twitter and Facebook.

The story had a minute and a half to present the information. That is not enough time for a complex subject like abstinence education.

Many news organizations are so focused on being first with a news story they are no longer concerned with being accurate. There should have been time to develop and refine the piece.

Did the reporter really understand the nature of the story? Was it easier to focus on the game aspect than to explain why the game was being created?

The report omitted facts that would have made the story clear. In this case, the news report intentionally or unintentionally distorted the actual story.

How to Be a Savvy News Viewer

It takes some effort not to get caught up in the emotional aspects of news stories, especially if the topic is important to you.

You should know that certain media outlets will do anything and everything to get your attention. It isn’t about truth or informing viewers. It is about gathering viewers for advertising dollars.

Being news savvy means thinking about the story with the Five W’s with an H kicker in mind.

  • Who is telling the story?
  • What is the slant of the story?
  • Where does this story take place?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why do I need to know this?
  • How does this story impact my understanding about the topic?

One more tool I want to add -- use what you already know and trust your instincts. I'm not a gamer but I do know that video games are very expensive to produce. That was one of my triggers that something in the report was not quite right.

NewsU has a self-directed tutorial about how to watch TV news. It is free, but registration is required. There is a Facebook News Literacy page or you can visit the Center on News Literacy.

Gena Haskett is a BlogHer Contributing Editor. Blogs:Out On The Stoop and Create Video Notebook

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