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Why news matters


Using historical documents and news coverage, this lesson explores the role of news in a democracy, and the role journalists play in helping citizens to be active, informed, and engaged. By understanding the societal obligations that underpin journalism, students will have a greater appreciation for why news literacy is important.


  • Students will understand key social and political movements in which the news media was a vital force.
  • Students will consider the journalist’s role in shaping history.
  • Students will analyze how certain events might have unfolded differently if the news media were more or less engaged in the issue.
  • Students will evaluate how consuming news media helps keep them informed on local/national events.

Common Core Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1c Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1d Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7 Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.


50 minutes


Slideshow: News covers history

Rubric: Why news matters

Access to video/audio projector to show news segment

Lesson step-by-step

1. Introduction — 10 minutes

Write the following quote on the board:

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”– Thomas Jefferson

Discuss with students what Thomas Jefferson might have meant by this quote. Consider these questions:

  • How does freedom of the press, or the ability for journalists to write without being censored, help keep us free?
  • How important do you think this freedom is?
  • Why might people, especially in the government, want to control what journalists write about?

Explain that the founding fathers, especially those in favor of the Bill of Rights, though it was especially important to protect the freedom to publish. They thought the government shouldn’t be able to control what was printed and what wasn’t. Most of all, they were afraid that if the press wasn’t protected (along with religion, petition, speech, and assembly), the citizens of the new America wouldn’t be able to fully express themselves. Sometimes, things that are printed make the government, a business, or people look bad—journalists tend to shed light on things that aren’t working, or things that need to be better in society. At times, this can make readers or the subjects of stories uncomfortable or even offended. But ultimately, informing people about what is truly happening is the journalist’s highest goal.

2. Context and examples — 20 minutes

Explain to students that you’re going to show examples of how journalists have written about important events in American and world history.  These events all relate to major issues our country was facing, including the Civil Rights movement and wars abroad. As you click through the examples in the powerpoint presentation, pause and ask students about the coverage and about what role they think the news media had in informing the public about these moments in history. Ask questions like:

  • Is this an issue you’re interested in?
  • Would you want to read about this?
  • Would you seek out this kind of information on your own?
  • To what extent would you depend on the news media to tell you about stories like this?
  • Where else do you think we would get this kind of information if not from journalists?
  • Emphasize that because we, as citizens, can’t be everywhere all the time (would they want to sit in Congress every day and take notes on what our politicians do?!), journalists are tasked with doing that for us.

3. Watch and respond — 10 minutes

Now, show the students 5-10 minutes of a local or national evening news segment. Be sure the segment is mostly news and not sports or entertainment. Instruct students that as they watch, they should keep a list of the things they learned about what’s going on through the news stories. They need to list at least 3-5 things they learned from the newscast. Explain that this is an example of how the news acts as a teacher for us, pointing out things we need to know in order to be fully aware of the important events happening in the world around us.

4. Individual response — 5 minutes

Ask students to then compile a list of stories, happening today, that are really important to them for whatever reason. Once students have identified a few examples, ask for volunteers to share. While students share, ask other students for ideas on where we could find information about these topics if not through the media.

2. Homework: student prompt and response — 5 minutes

Assign and explain the following short-answer prompt to students. Grade according to the provided rubric. They should type or write two paragraphs addressing the following:

Consider this quote by James Madison when talking about the role of the press: “The great danger [in a republic] is that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority.”  Write a response to this quote, and consider the following questions: If we apply this quote to the news media, how can journalists use this philosophy to help protect the rights of the minority? What can this quote tell us about the diversity of voices, stories, and perspectives we should expect from our news media? Give examples to support your argument.