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Bringing help to news deserts: Lesson Plan



The Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at University of North Carolina first reported on the “news desert” phenomenon in 2016. And the picture only became more dire. Today, the Center’s definition is “a community, either rural or urban, with limited access to the sort of credible and comprehensive news and information that feeds democracy at the grassroots level.”

Think about it: If voters don’t know what’s going on in government, how can they make informed decisions in the voting booth? How can they choose the right leaders if all they hear is hype from one side or even conflicting information from several sides? As far as schools go, how can they decide who should be on the school board, the group that makes important decisions about curriculum, administrators and policies that impact everyone?

In a news desert that doesn’t have trained journalists seeking truth and expert opinions about education in its community, students can help fill that void. What can students do to ensure factual and useful information gets to voters before they go to the polls? How can they help their families and neighbors and still learn a lot as they do so?

That’s where this lesson plan can get the process started.


  • Students will acknowledge that local news media are missing important stories about education in their community. 
  • Students will recognize how information about certain topics make a difference in how voters will react.
  • Students will be practice news coverage that is well-sourced and fairly balanced.
  • Students will set up a plan to start filling the holes in educational news coverage in their communities.

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.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. 
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper). 
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. 


Two or more class periods – to introduce and set up the possibilities. (Four days between to give students time to use the graphic organizers for their “research.”

Materials / resources

Day 1 step-by-step

  1. Bell-ringer: Ask students to write on a slip of paper where they and their family get their news. Tell them to be specific – which websites, newspapers, magazines, television, social media, friends, etc.
  2. Then zero in by asking them where they get their information about what’s going on in their school district? What kinds of stories do they see or hear about local schools and education? (NOTE: If students consume little media, give them time to hunt for local stories online and see what they can find. You might start by listing some possible categories: school board decisions, school board meetings, school district hiring/firing, curriculum content/books, topics, etc., activities in classes, sports scores and game coverage, sports coaching, sports equipment, building conditions/maintenance, extra-curricular activities — clubs, debate, student government etc.) Is that information important to voters? Is it available to them?
  3. If they are in an educational news desert, this may be difficult, so stop the process when students start complaining they are finding nothing. You’ve made your point.
  4. Share with them the definition of a news desert. (See pulled quote halfway down this page) 
  5. Discuss if students think they are in a news desert, specifically about their local schools. Why or why not? List on the board the stories of things going on in their school district that community members should know about. Help students separate rumor from reportable information.
  6. On their own computers or one the teacher uses to project, look at the “Do you live in a news desert?” map and explanation. Also use the pull-down below it to look at your state. What are you learning?
  7. Distribute the two graphic organizers and discuss keeping track over the next four days what they find in local media about their schools and what they believe from being in the schools SHOULD be reported.

Five days later step by step

  1. First discuss the findings of education coverage in your community. How extensive is it? What stories are being told? Who is telling them? Do they seem accurate and thorough?
  2. Then discuss what is missing. Make a list on the board of the stories students think the community should know and why they should know this.
  3. When most stories are listed, then go back and fill in who could/should be sources for reporters trying to tell these stories.
  4. Finally – and this might take several days to work through – what ways could this class/staff get the important information out to the community? Things go consider:
    1. Who would do the reporting? Whom would they interview?
    1. What media outlets could they use?
      1. Student news website?
      1. Student print media?
      1. Instagram?
      1. Twitter?
      1. Facebook?
      1. Any other potential outlets?
    1. How would be promote this and let the community know it is for them?
    1. What are the pros and cons of trying to do this?

Teacher notes: 

Clearly, this is an ongoing commitment. Students would have to see the value and what would be gained by doing this. And they can’t turn into local community reporters overnight. But even if just two or three important stories get out that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, it’s a way to help the community, the students, the faculty, and, in essence, democracy.