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The importance of an independent and active press

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by Matthew Smith

Title

The importance of an independent and active press

Description

Having a press that is independent and active enough to hold the government accountable has long been considered important for the proper functioning of a democracy. In fact, although the benefits of an active, adversarial press has come under fire, recently, many people (even public officials) have argued that a press that actively challenges public officials for the truth is a necessity for our own democracy to work at all.

This lesson provides some thoughts from public officials and others about the importance of an independent and active press and then asks students to weigh in on these perspectives and consider the state of the free press today and how important it still is and why. This lesson could be applicable in any class that discusses the press or government (including journalism, social students or English classes).

Objectives

  • Students will recognize the relationship between an independent press and the functioning of a democracy
  • Students will discuss and demonstrate the effect of an independent press on their own lives
  • Students will see the importance of the press and its being the watchdog of the government.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
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.RI.11-12.9 Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.

Length

50 minutes

Materials/Resources

Video: Importance of an Independent and Active Press

Handout: Importance of an Independent and Active Press

Prompts: Importance of an Independent and Active Press Discussion

Activity/lesson Step by Step

Step 1 — Introduction (1-2 minutes)

Briefly introduce the topic of the relationship between an independent and active press and the proper functioning of a democracy (feel free to use the language provided at the top of the “Importance of an Independent and Active Press Handout”).

Step 2 — Video (5 minutes)

Play the “Importance of an Independent and Active Press Video.”

Step 3 — Reaction (5 minutes)

Ask for some brief student reactions to the video (feel free to use any of the suggested prompts, below):

    1. How do public officials seem to feel about the press?
    2. What are some reasons given in support of a free press, even if they don’t always like what they do?
    3. What can a press (free from government control and active enough to bug public officials about things, even if it’s unpleasant) provide for citizens in a democracy?

Step 4 — Reading (5 minutes)

Pass out the “Importance of an Independent and Active Press Handout.” Ask students to read through the handful of additional views expressed for further discussion.

Step 5 — Discussion preparation (5 minutes)

Pass out the “Importance of an Independent and Active Press Discussion Prompts” and ask students to complete the front.

Step 6 — Pair or small group discussion (5 minutes)

Have students discuss/compare their answers/reactions in pairs or small groups. (Consider having groups put a “+” symbol next to the statement that the entire group mostly agrees with and a “-” symbol next to the statement the group most disagrees with and wishes to discuss in front of the class.)

Step 7 — Large group discussion (20 minutes)

Have students (and/or groups) share responses to the prompts from the handout.

(Consider calling on specific groups/students to discuss and explain the statement they put a “+” or “-” symbol next to. If some students repeatedly take the side of limiting the press or allowing government officials to stop particular debates, it would be helpful to refer back to the main points made in the quotes provided, especially in the handout. Students don’t need to come away convinced the press should be as free and/or active as possible, but they should understand and appreciate the reasons many officials/experts have given for supporting such a press, even if they don’t agree with them or believe most of the press is evil in some way. It may be especially helpful to refer back to Hannah Arendt’s passage and propose back to the students and/or class, what the danger is in citizens coming to believe that everyone is lying. What benefits can a trustworthy press provide? Why? What would it be like if there was no press at all, or if all press was owned/run by the government? These questions may help re-direct discussions if necessary.)

Step 8 — Assessment (5 minutes)

Require students to respond to the following final exit-ticket prompt on the back of the discussion prompt sheet:

    1. How important is the existence of an Independent and active press to your life, today? Explain why.

Differentiation

If time is short, you could drop either the video or handout and complete the discussion prompts and discussion with only one set of quotes.

If more background is needed by students on press rights, you may have the class view “Freedom of the Press: Crash Course Government and Politics #26” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vtpd0EbaFoQ) before this lesson.

Assessment

Skim through the “exit ticket” responses to judge understanding of the reasoning provided.

Extension

In a future class, you could further discussion by providing (anonymously) some of the responses to the exit-ticket question and asking for some additional thoughts related to those.

Students could also be asked to find one additional quote concerning the free press that they most agree (or disagree) with and then explain why. Some decent sources of additional quotes would be the following:

Article, Speaking of a Free Press, American Newspaper Association Foundation

Wiki website, Freedom of the Press

Brainy Quotes website, Free Press Quotes

Particularly if this is for a journalism class, students could be asked to evaluate their own publication and how well it has kept students informed about the local school powers (administrators, district officials, etc.) and possibly how well they have been active in holding them accountable (in an objective, truth-based manner). What are some stories (or some information) that have been missed and/or should be covered? What are some questions that should be asked of local school community leaders?

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