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Eight functions for journalism today & tomorrow


In a time when the roles media play are changing – and will continue to change – it is important students can identify, apply and justify new roles, tools and approaches. In this lesson, students will learn about eight new approaches to journalism as developed by journalists Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. Understanding and embracing these roles, especially ethically, will help student journalists to better serve the long-term social responsibility role of scholastic media. 



  • Students will explore the eight functions of journalism for use in their student media and determine how or if they can be adapted to fit their mission. 
  • Students will prepare ethical guidelines for their use of the eight functions in their student media. 
  • Students will prepare a story planning sheet to demonstrate how the eight functions would expand and improve a future story or package. 

Common Core State Standards 



Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text. 


Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem. 


Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas. 


Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content. 


150 minutes 


Blackboard or whiteboard 

Teacher laptop and digital projector 

Internet access 

Handout: 8 functions notes sheet 

8 functions story planning sheet 

Chapter 9 of Blur by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel  

Ethical guidelines template 

Ethical guidelines models 

Extra outside resources: 

Quizlet, Blur, chapter 9   

Article: creating a navigational guide to new media 


Lesson step-by-step  

DAY 1 

1. Warm-up—10 minutes

The teacher will ask students what are essential roles of commercial media, and then scholastic media (if any difference), today. Students can talk about positive and negatives and which roles are most important and why, The teacher or students should list these on the board. Students should take notes.  


The teacher should use the following information as background for sharing with students about the 8 functions. 

  • Creating a navigational guide to new media focuses on the “next journalism,” in an interview with Tom Rosenstiel, co-author of Blur.*  
  • The interview and Quizlet, Blur, chapter 9 focuses on the change from lecture journalism where a gatekeeper chose news on behalf of the public to dialogue journalism where citizens get information from more than organized media. Some citizens also create as much media information as legacy media. 

 2. Whole group—40 minutes

The teacher would then ask students to think about how those roles are changing. For example, how audiences now get information from a variety of sources, some outside of “official media.” Another example would be how audiences can get information 24/7 and in many forms.  

The goal is to focus students’ thinking to new roles, and directly, to Kovach and Rosenstiel’s 8 functions of news media.  

Explain to students that this change in thinking, the authors say, creates questions: (The teacher could share these in a handout or put the on the board. Students should take notes.) 

  • What does the public need from the news media? (accurate and trustworthy information they can act on, context) 
  • What values are essential to news creators – and consumers? (fact, accuracy, reliability, truth, relevance) 
  • What journalism standards from current journalism will remain? What might change? How will journalists do things differently? (objectivity, credibility, breaking news, context) 
  • What should the gathering and dissemination of news look like? (platforms, issues with changes) 
  • What will happen to the role of the editor? (changes require more editing or less, what will role of audience be) 
  • The authors say the press will be more of a mediator. What does that suggest in the way of changing roles, even changing ethics? (issues with fake news, credibility, diversity of ideas, trust and validity of information) 
  • What do all of us need from the “next journalism?” (information we can access and trust, credibility, news literacy) 

At this point, after some discussion over the points above, the teacher would introduce by handout or use of the whiteboard the 8 functions of news media, as seen by the authors. (Students should use the 8 functions notation sheets to take notes during the discussion and to ask additional information. The teacher will collect the notes and examine them to see students have key concepts and return them the next day). 

  • Authenticator (This role of the editor will increase, particularly in terms of verification; reassessment of what objectivity means; demanding credible and reliable sources of all types; handling continuous news consumption; seeking truth; sharing information in context, that is cohesive and thorough; the kind of content delivered and the quality of engagement become important; distinguishing what information we can trust and what we should question; stressing transparency)
  • Sense maker (to create context and look for connection; background and perspectives; with more information comes the obligation to present information of value, not just new; it is not interpreting; what questions are unanswered; this is a reportorial role)
  • Investigator (The watchdog role of exposing what the public needs to know so it can act in an informed manner; verification and awareness; a searchlight building on the first two) 
  • Witness bearer (Simply showing up and reporting events; monitoring; being a matter of record for those events and issues the public needs to record and scrutinize; organize networks of witnesses so those in power know they are monitored; look at stories no one talks about but are needed so informed publics can act)
  • Empowerer (Give the public tools to use, as citizens, to achieve a new way of knowing; to enable gathering, creating and researching; present news via multiple platforms, in context that is useful; to be a partner with the citizen; working with the public to determine “how to know what to believe”)
  • Smart aggregator (Helps organize information from the web; point audiences to other sources news media feel are valuable; this media effort saves people time by steering them to trusted sources; planning stories so key information citizens need is in a central, easy to access spot; using the best media tools to tell the story)
  • Forum organizer (Create and maintain conversation and discourse for citizens to actively participate; to give voice to the voiceless; create a place where participants of all beliefs feel welcome and enabled; keeping the forum a place of reliable fact and credible sources and not fake news and rumor)
  • Role model (Be model for those who want to purpose citizen journalism; to offer a training ground for citizens to learn and practice journalistic principles; to become a model for free expression and accurately and truthfully engaging the public) 

Next, with the 8 functions on the board or projected, talk about what they mean and involve. Go over the terms listed with each function. Have students discuss possible meaning of each, adding some points of their own or challenging others.  

Talk about how the roles or functions show up in commercial news media and in scholastic media. Which ones could be especially effective in scholastic media and how would that potentially change the how and why of their reporting? 


The teacher will evaluate student work by collecting and commenting on the thoroughness and focus of their notes. 


Instead of lecture and class presentation, the teacher could prepare a handout to distribute the day before so students could read the 8-function background material, take notes and be ready for a full period of class discussion. 

 We suggest, for many reasons besides this lesson, that the teacher purchase Blur to read more fully about journalism changes in the digital era. It gives remarkable insights into the changing field of journalism and how to adopt and adapt them. 


DAY 2 

1. Entrance ticket—5 minutes

The teacher will return student notes and ask students to reflect on the 8 functions and how they can be used to improve scholastic media. Which of the 8 principles offers the best approaches and reasoning to improve reported coverage. 

2. Creating ethical guidelines based on the 8 functions—45 minutes

The teacher will let the class divide into small groups of 4 or 5, and then outline the day’s project of creating one or more ethical guidelines (based on earlier ethical exercises and sample guideline creation model and forms)  from the 8-function list and examples. The teacher might also, as needed guide group choices so group choices do not overlap. 

For example, the teacher will ask students to choose one of the attributes of Authenticator (let’s say verification of information). The teacher will also show a model ethical guideline for students to study. The teacher will assign each small group to create one or more ethical guidelines by the end of the class: 

  • First, choose one of the 8 function categories 
  • Next, choose one of the attributes discussed in class to create an ethical guideline, similar to the model 
  • Create the ethical guideline using group brainstorming, online resources, current practices 
  • Students will use the ethical guidelines template 
  • Edit and finalize the guideline 
  • If time, repeat the process


The teacher will collect the final ethical guidelines from each group at the end of the class for discussion at another time. The whole group will vote, at a later time, which ones, or all, to accept as part of the program’s staff manual and ethics code. 



The teacher might assign the first steps as homework so students can have time in class to discuss each small groups’ work. The teacher could also have the whole group discuss the ethical guides given them as homework as Warm Up activity for Day 3. This lesson might be a stand-alone project and not a three-day continuous sequence. 


DAY 3 

1. Warm-up—15 minutes

The teacher will direct the whole group discuss the ethical statements given them as small group classwork in day 2. Students will briefly discuss and select which ones to accept for the staff manual and student ethical guidelines.  

2. Small group—35 minutes

The teacher will ask students to brainstorm potential story ideas to build their use of the 8 functions around. Students should be in the same small groups as day 2.  

The teacher will instruct each group to take one of the story ideas, and using the 8 functions planning sheet, develop the story idea. Be sure to include how they use the 8 function points as well as other elements. Students will use the Story planning sheet to outline their work. 

 For example, how would students make sense of aggregate news elements in their story. How would the authenticator function apply?  



The teacher will collect the group work and save them for the next available story planning day or use at the class’ discretion. 

If a story deadline is close, the teacher and class might choose to have discussion and planning over each story idea as a fourth day for this lesson. 





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