Newsflash: The World Didn’t End on Schedule

On October 30, 1938, New Jersey residents fled their homes in panic to save themselves from a Martian invasion. According to a radio report, bloodthirsty aliens had landed in the vicinity of Grover’s Mill and were killing every living thing in their path. Interviews with concerned politicians and sound effects “from the scene” augmented the sense of shock and tragedy.

Despite repeated warnings during the show that the story was made up, the following day the biggest US newspapers reported that two people had died of heart attacks on hearing the report, and hundreds of frightened citizens had flocked to local police departments to seek protection. The newspapers were full of stories like that of Bill Dock, a 76-year-old farmer from New Jersey who packed his guns and went looking for the aliens on his own.

The broadcast was young Orson Welles’s radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds. Although the panic it supposedly provoked may have been exaggerated by the newspaper industry (which used the story to make a point—that radio, the then-newcomer medium, was irresponsible and could not be trusted), the facts are these: major US newspapers wrote about the incident for weeks, and many people living in the area claimed the panic had been real. However, there is no proof that the two heart attack deaths in a local hospital on October 30 were caused by the radio broadcast.

You would say: Yes, but this was 1938. People did not have access to as much information as we do now; they were more gullible and therefore easier to manipulate. Today, we have a wealth of information at our fingertips, and we don’t fall for crazy stories like that…

You may change your mind after watching any one of the hundreds of videos in Spanish, Portuguese, English, Russian, and many other languages on YouTube that predicted the world would end after a huge asteroid crashed into Earth on February 1, 2019. 

If you have any doubts left, the student reports in the first edition of sCOOL Media will show you just how easy it is to manipulate society through fake content today.

sCOOL Media is a national online medium showcasing student work created as part of the media literacy program for high school students of the Association of European Journalists–Bulgaria. Launched in the fall of 2018, the program is supported by the America for Bulgaria Foundation in cooperation with the Fulbright/America for Bulgaria program for US English teaching assistants.

With the program’s help, high school students across Bulgaria will learn to prepare journalistic reports, work with online content, and tell real from fake news. AEJ–Bulgaria will work with journalism clubs in Bulgarian schools as well as with individual students interested in improving their media literacy and writing skills.

Students from any school can submit a story to sCOOL Media so long as it is on the topic chosen for the month and in one of the medium’s two languages, Bulgarian and English. The best student work will be published on

The first edition of sCOOL Media was dedicated to the “end of the world” stories that flooded the internet over the past few months. In their reports, students dealt with one of the most pressing issues in the world today—the spread of fake news and people’s inability to recognize falsehoods online. The editors received both creative work and journalistic stories from dozens of students in thirteen cities and were impressed by the authors’ creativity and professional attitude as well as by the detailed descriptions and unexpected developments in some of the stories.

As good journalistic practice demands, tenth-grader Pavel Danev from Haskovo quoted an expert on the subject of asteroids, a professor of astrophysics at Sofia University. The professor explained that it was highly unlikely that a dangerous asteroid would even come close to Earth in our lifetimes.

A report by ninth-grader Nia Donova, from Vratsa, communicates the thoughts of ordinary people right before the end of the world. “The unexpected plot twist shows how unpredictable students can be,” says Lyuba Yordanova, editor-in-chief of sCOOL Media. The fact that students avoid clichés makes working with them extremely rewarding, she adds.

Bozhidar Klouchek and his team from Varna created a short film—a cautionary tale about a TV mogul who is more interested in his network’s ratings than in giving viewers objective information.

Finally, a team of fifth-graders from Isperih decided to approach the subject with a sense of humor by showing how their neighbors are preparing for Armageddon. Protection methods include hiding underneath an invisibility cloak purchased for 1,000 Bulgarian levs and meditating against killer asteroids.

AEJ–Bulgaria’s media literacy program does not aim to make a journalist out of every student. Its goal is to teach young people to structure their thoughts in writing and help them look at online content critically, Yordanova explains.

All students who submit work to sCOOL Media receive feedback, and the authors of the best stories will be able to attend a summer camp for aspiring journalists, sponsored by the US Embassy, where they will receive training by seasoned reporters and other media professionals.

Photo 2: Student stories on sCOOL Media

Photo 3: A screenshot from Bozhidar Klouchek’s short about corruption in the media

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