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When journalists must advocate for themselves


Students will evaluate a July 4 front page that advocates for freedoms and for a critical awareness of government actions. Then, after reading background information and Facebook discussions about the role of the newspaper and the purpose of page one, students will debate whether the page was an appropriate reflection of the newspaper’s purpose. 


  • Students will analyze the role of newspapers in democracy and explore the challenge of being impartial publishers of information.
  • Students will examine the arguments for and against an ‘advocacy’ press.
  • Students will explain and defend their positions on the role of the press in America.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5 Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.


50 minutes


Class set: Virginian-Pilot front page  (one for each student)

Group set: ACES story (one per group of 3)

Group set: Facebook comments page (one per group of 3)

Rubric: Letter to the editor

Lesson step-by-step

1. Building background — 10 minutes

Explain to students that today they’ll be discussing the value of journalism and how to best advocate for a free press in a democracy. Sometimes, journalists have to advocate for themselves, going out of their way to remind the public why they exist, whom they serve, and that their role is enshrined in the very fabric of our Constitution.  However, for some, doing so crosses the line between an impartial press and advocacy press.  If a journalist is advocating for something, what does that mean? Does it violate the expectations we have that newspapers will provide information and not push an agenda? What if that agenda is something most people would agree is good or beneficial? What if that position is supported by our very Constitution?

Explain that students are going to read and analyze a recent front page that received mixed feedback on whether the content was appropriate.  This summer, on July 4, the Virginian-Pilot published a front page complete with quotes and graphics explaining, advocating, and defending certain freedoms in our country. You will first spend some time reading this front page, and then you’ll get more background information about how it was created and what others thought about it.

(Hand out image of front page, and give students 10 minutes to read and process it. Ask them to make notes on a separate piece of paper about their original reactions. Did they like it? Did they like the content and the visuals? One or the other? What did they think the main message was?)

2. Think-pair-share — 20 minutes

Next, group students into groups of three. Allow students to pick a task (reader, writer, speaker), and hand out the Facebook comments and the ACES story that goes with the text. Instruct the reader quietly to read the comments and story to the group. Then, the group should spend 10 minutes discussing their reactions and whether they agree with any of the comments. The writer should keep notes on the group’s reaction and comments to the feedback.  Finally, the group should discuss and come to a consensus about whether they think the front page was appropriate, reflected quality journalism, and why (or why not).

3. Present — 20 minutes

Have each group explain their argument to the class (the speaker talks), and allow the groups to debate it a little. Finally, as a class, take a vote on whether the page was appropriate and professional. Was this advocacy? Was it journalism? Was it both? And finally, are students OK with the outcome? Can they live with it either way? Do they even care?

4. Follow-up — Take home exercise

Directions: Write a 200-word letter to the editor in response to this front-page design. Be sure to state your opinion about whether you believe the front page was appropriate or inappropriate and why. You must back up your claim with at least three specific facts or references. You can cite recent national issues, other media coverage, political documents, and/or historical knowledge to support your argument.