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Lesson Plans

Terry Gillis Sugrue
Library/media specialist
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Lesson Plans

Becoming Informed: Recognizing the Heart of Democracy

How Do The Media Measure Up?

How Do The Media Measure Up?

Terry Gillis Sugrue of Reingold Elementary School in Fitchburg, Mass.

Terry Gillis Sugrue
Reingold Elementary School
Fitchburg, Mass.

Title: How Do the Media Measure Up?

Description of School and Students

This curriculum is designed for a 12th grade applied communications (tech prep) class in an urban high school of approximately 1,000 students. This senior class of 25 students exhibits a wide range of reading and writing abilities. Many of these students plan on attending community college after graduation. However, some of these students will not continue their education after high school.

Generative Topic

Media ethics and standards

Generative Object

A picture of the scales of justice

Understanding Goals

 Essential or Guiding Question

  • What essential standards of journalism should the media follow?

Critical Engagement Questions

  • What motivates the media?
  • What does the public expect from the media?
  • Does the media reflect society?
  • How can we become critical readers and viewers of the media?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale, and Time Line

In this unit on media ethics and standards of journalism, students will be required to take a critical view of the various print and broadcast media and to analyze their adherence to the Society of Professional Journalists Code Of Ethics. This media unit can be used independently or as the last of the three units. In this unit of study, students should be questioning the availability of “junk” and “trash” media as well as taking a close look at the quality of information that they receive from the mainstream media. In addition, students will be reading "Macbeth" at this time, and this play and unit of media study should present opportunities for class discussions about the value of a free press to a democracy. The time-line for this unit is approximately two weeks.

Activity 1

Students are shown a copy of a tabloid with a screaming-for-attention headline and asked to write a journal entry about why people buy and read this type of paper. Students are asked to share and discuss their thoughts in class. (Guided discussion should insure that students recognize the profit motive and the strictly-for-entertainment purpose.) This activity requires one 50 minute period.

Activity 2

Students are divided into small groups and asked to brainstorm a set of controls or standards that they would like to see the media adhere to. After students agree upon their group list, the list is written on large sheets of paper and displayed in the classroom. Students walk around and compare their group’s list with the others. Discussion follows. Students are then given a copy of the Professional Journalists Code of Ethics and asked to write a comparison/contrast paper for homework. This would require two 50-minute periods.

Activity 3

Students are provided with a mainstream press (for example Time or Newsweek) article. They are also provided with a copy of the "The Essential Criteria of Journalism" by Pippa Norris :

The Essential Criteria of Journalism

  • Informativeness
  • Truth and Accuracy
  • Objectivity
  • Pluralism
  • Balanced

Students are to write an analysis of the article based on the above criteria. Their analysis will be shared with the class and then passed in for evaluation and grading. Requires one 50-minute class.

Activity 4

Students, in small groups, draw up lists of elected and appointed community officials that could be interviewed about how they view the media’s role and performance in the reporting of social issues. Students then write up a list of questions that will be used in an interview of a particular official. If necessary, students will be given class time to engage in research to help them formulate their interview questions. After questions are approved by the teacher, a representative from each group is chosen to call and request an interview. The results of the interview are shared within the small group and narratives stating the officials’ feelings and beliefs about the media are written and presented to the class. (Students are encouraged to ask the official if he would also speak to the class in person and be willing to answer questions.) Requires two 50-minute periods and additional time.


  • Copy of a tabloid newspaper
  • Copies of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics (This and many other organizations’ codes of ethics are at this link.)
  • An article from a mainstream news magazine
  • Names and phone numbers of local elected and appointed officials

Terry Gillis Sugrue’s lesson plan, "How Do the Media Measure Up?" was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 1998, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 154.

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