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How the economics of news affects truth


In this lesson, students are exposed to the often-negative influences of the current news media business model.  They will explore how profit expectations have led to a smaller news hole, less foreign news, and less diversity of information. On the second day of the lesson, students will use their own research skills to explore the positive effects of today’s news media business.


  • Students will contextualize the negative influences of today’s media model on content and quality.
  • Students will identify both the benefits and limitations of today’s media business model on news content.
  • Students will develop and present ideas for mitigating the negative effects of today’s news model on news consumers.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7 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.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.7 Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.


Two 50-minute class periods


Posterboard or butcherblock paper

Computer access: 1:3

Group set: Group project directions

Group set: Group presentation rubric 

Lesson step-by-step


1. Building background, project setup — 10 minutes

Explain to students that they are going to build on their knowledge from the lesson Who owns the news? by looking more specifically at how the new media business model has affected the way we get our news. To do that, students are going to complete a team brainstorming project. But first, we’re going to learn more about what’s happening to our news.

Advise students that they’ll want to take notes on the information you’re about to give them because they’ll use these notes and other resources for their group project.

2. Making the case — 15 minutes

All the things we learned about in the last lesson (convergence, conglomerates, media synergy) have created a relatively new business model for our journalists. While this is a somewhat “new” model, we already can see some of the negative effects on our news content. Explain that in their groups, they are going to look at these potentially negative effects of the business model on news content (write these on the board, and explain in turn):

1. Shrinking news hole: Because less people are spending money on traditional advertising, newspapers have to put more ads in their papers to make the same amount of money they used to make. So, a newspaper that used to have only a couple ads on each page 30 years ago might now need five ads on a page to make the same amount of money. That means that the “hole,” or space in each newspaper or news magazine devoted to news topics, is actually shrinking as ads take up more space.

2. Less foreign news: One of the first things many news organizations do to cut costs is to eliminate their foreign news bureaus. (Ask if students know what a foreign news bureau is, and then explain that it’s usually a reporter or group of reporters who live outside the US and cover international events.) Why would newspapers eliminate these bureaus? Because they are expensive to own and operate, and the kinds of stories that the reporters write about often take more time because they involve international issues. So, spending money on reporters who write less than those who live in the States seems like a luxury, and often those reporters are the first to lose their jobs when money gets tight.

3. Less diversity in voices: Another way traditional news outlets try to save money is by decreasing the number of reporters altogether, which can lead to a decrease in the diversity of voices that are represented in the newspaper. Think about it: if you only have 5 reporters instead of 10, the chances are pretty good that those 5 reporters won’t represent ALL the types of ideas, cultures, lifestyles, and people in your community. That means that they are less likely to pick up on unique, diverse story ideas simply because they won’t have the network of sources or perspectives you would get from a larger team of reporters.

4. Decrease in local news: One of the ways many traditional news outlets are trying to increase profits is by expanding their audience, or their potential consumer base. When this happens, sometimes local news gets cut because it doesn’t always appeal to a larger, diverse community. So, it’s easier and sometimes more profitable for traditional news outlets to publish stories that are of a wide, general interest instead of specific, more local kinds of stories. That means that some local news might not get covered because it will only appeal to a handful of readers.

5. Emphasis on entertainment news: Finally, another outcome of the current news business model is a shift towards more entertaining news. Consumers repeatedly indicate that they like to read about good news, and news that is entertaining. Because this news is the news that “sells,” publishers and journalists might shift the balance of their content towards these types of stories, and sometimes this means that important but more serious news gets overlooked.

Explain that each group is going to research this topic more specifically, find examples, and brainstorm ways to solve this issues.

3. Team project — 25 minutes

Divide the class into 5 groups of 6 students each. Pass out the group project assignment sheet and go over the instructions. Students will have the remainder of the class time to research and read, and then 25 minutes of the next class period to work on their presentation.

NOTE: If you don’t have access to computers and internet for research, you can find 3 news articles on each of the five negative effects, and then 3 news articles on how citizens or news organizations are working to mitigate or solve those issues. Print copies of the articles, and give each group a folder with everything in it, and have students read, highlight, and summarize the articles as part of their presentation instead of doing the research portion.


1. Finish presentation — 25 minutes

Students have the first part of class to finish their research or finish working on the visual presentation. Remind them that they should take some time to thinking about their presentation, who will speak, and how best to explain their information and visuals.

2. Present! — 25 minutes

Each group gets 5 minutes to present and answer questions.

3. Homework — follow-up reflection journal

Students should watch the short video “Final Edition,” which documents the closing of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado. Students should write a two-paragraph or more journal entry that reflects on how they felt about the video, whether they think a newspaper closing is a significant or important event, and how they might be affected if they were readers in the Denver community. Knowing what they know after the group projects, what could they do as citizens to overcome some of the negative effects of the Rocky Mountain News closing?