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News v. public relations


by Kristin Taylor


News vs. Public Relations 


The community gets information about what is happening at school through different publications, but not all of these publications are journalistic. In this lesson, students will differentiate between student reporting and school public relations by comparing and contrasting student publications with school public relations content such as newsletters, school-created magazines or school websites created and maintained by adults in the community.


  • Students will be able to explain the difference between public relations and student reporting.
  • Students will reflect on the purpose and importance of both types of content.
  • Students will analyze how they can maintain a relationship while remaining independent from school public relations content-creators.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.C 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.


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.



Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).


Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.


60 minutes

Materials / Resources

Whiteboard and markers

Teacher laptop and digital projector

Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics

School generated website, publication or other content

Lesson step-by-step

  1. Warm Up (5 minutes)

Written on the board: “What is the difference between public relations and journalism?” After taking some initial responses to the prompt, teacher asks, “If our school newspaper and yearbook are student-run journalism, who runs its public relations, and what forms does this PR take?” (The school may have formal or informal public relations publications content, such as newsletters, a school website, etc.)

  1. Teacher-led discussion (5 minutes)

Teacher reads a definition of public relations: “the professional maintenance of a favorable public image by a company or other organization or a famous person.”

Have students look at the “Be independent” section of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics (or their own, if they own it) and read through it. Ask, “How does this conflict with what you might do if you were a public relations professional?”

  1. Small group activity (15 minutes)

Teacher hands out a recent adult-created school publication or piece of content or has students access the school website’s news section. Students look through the content and consider what it has in common with their own student news publication (focus on the school, writing may be journalistic [depends on publication], may use infographics and strong images, shouldn’t include false information) and what might be different (no differentiation between news and opinion, no articles or photos that cast the school in a negative light, use of adjectives/adverbs or exclamation marks).

  1. Class Discussion (20 minutes)

Teacher draws a Venn diagram on the board with “School Public Relations” on one side and “Student Publication” on the other. The class fills in the circles to synthesize their conclusions about similarities and differences in small groups.

Discussion questions:

  1. What is the audience and purpose for public relations? Why is it important for a school to have a public relations team?
  2. What is the audience and purpose for scholastic journalism? Why is it important for a school to have a journalism program?
  3. Is journalism better than public relations? Worse? Just different?
  4. What should the student publication staff’s relationship be with the school’s publication relations staff? How can you remain independent? Should you ever collaborate with them?
  5. How does this give you insight into your own student publication policies to not use school staff’s photographs — even with permission — unless there is no other option?
  6. What would your response be if the school requests the use of student work created for your school publication? Do you have a policy in the staff manual for this situation?Assessment (15 minutes) 

Students will go through a recent editing of a student publication and find two stories that probably wouldn’t be featured in school public relations publications and discuss why they are good journalism stories, but not good public relations stories. They can share these stories verbally or write about them.


Discuss how these same principles apply to professional media outlets as well. Can students identify when what they read takes a PR slant? What are the dangers of media outlets running a press release word for word

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