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Cynda Douglas
English and journalism teacher
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Lesson Plans

Information or Influence? Creating a Mission

Information or Influence? Creating a Mission

Cynda Douglas of Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Va.

Cynda Douglas
Robinson Secondary School
Fairfax, Va.

Title: Informationor Influence? Creating a Mission

Description of School and Students

This unit is taught to a diverse group of students who are enrolled in Journalism 1. The class does not work on and/or contribute to the high school newspaper. The class is literally a basic journalism class in which students take the full year to learn the foundational skills on which to build their interest in journalism and media studies. The class has approximately 32 students in grades 9-12, although a majority of the students are 9th and 10th graders. All students are English speaking; however, there is quite a cultural mix (the school has a total of 4,500 students, nearly 30 different countries and backgrounds are represented). The levels of writing are varied, as many students have IEPs (Individualized Educational Programs) in reading and writing and quite a few are ESL (English as Second Language)students.

State and/or District Standards:

  • 1200 #1 – role of journalism in the development of our society
  • 1200 #2 – communicate and use common vocabulary of journalism
  • 1200 #4 – become knowledgeable about current events and distinguish between fact and fiction, understand writer bias
  • 1200 #5 – analyze major forms/mediums of media
  • 1200 #11 – evaluate student and professional forms of media

Generative Topics:

  • the influence that media has on how individuals define culture, freedom, responsibility, and more
  • how one defines media responsibility
  • create a mission for media

Generative Objects:

  • various examples of media (newspapers, tv news shows, other schools’ newspapers, etc.)
  • overhead transparency with a collection of notes/quotes gathered from professional lectures

Understanding Goals – Essential Questions:

  • How do you feel the media has shaped our culture today? Consider pop culture, politics, public opinion, etc.
  • How do you personally feel the media has influenced you?
  • How does media construct our sense of reality?
  • What is media responsibility?
  • How does this responsibility differ from medium to medium

Time Lines/Explanation

This lesson is best suited for early in the school year and/or semester. It is more of an individual reflective activity (I have my students keep journals in the classroom for their reflective moments; I collect these journals every 2 weeks for a participation grade). This activity helps engage students in the often-overwhelming variety of media perspectives and views that they encounter. Most students in the class are there for the purpose of moving into the program and work for the school paper. Therefore, the ultimate goal of this lesson is to help them explore their personal feelings of media influence, understand the differences between the various mediums, and to ultimately understand their role in the school’s newspaper and how it correlates with other types of media.


Day 1

  • Start class by allowing students to watch 15-30 minutes of TV news (we have CNN in our classrooms) and ask them to jot down the “hot topics” of the day, any stories that specifically interest them, any questions/personal responses they might have, etc.
  • Have an open class discussion about the responses and drive the conversation to their opinions on what is happening and how news and information was presented (i.e. – Did something get too much coverage? Not enough? Etc.)
  • Ask students to respond to the following question in their journals (5 min.): How do you feel media coverage, in all forms (radio, tv, newspapers, magazines), influences your daily life?
  • Have another class discussion on the responses and jot down student responses on the board.
  • Discuss the terms “hard news” and “infotainment” in an open discussion.
  • Homework: Each student is to go home find three news stories, any type that interests him/her in any way. The stories must come from at least 2 different mediums. If it is a print story, the student is to clip it, mount it on a sheet of paper and answer the questions below. If it is a tv or radio story, he/she is to give a summary of the story, give specs on when and where it appeared, put this information on a sheet of paper, and then answer the questions below:
    • Why did you Select this story?
    • What is the organizational pattern?
    • What is the overall tone? (If you did radio or TV, be sure to explain the pitch of the voice, body language/gestures, facial expressions, etc.)
    • What information do you feel was left out?
    • Is this an effective story? Why or why not?

Day 2:

  • Allow students to share their homework and generate discussion based on comparisons between what stories were chosen and why, how they were presented, etc.
  • Allow 5 minutes to write in journals on the question: How do the different presentations of stories, both entertainment and hard news, affect our sense of reality?
  • Discuss responses and then put up the overhead display of quotes on media influence:
    • Old-fashioned journalism isn’t good enough anymore. Today’s journalism is about information and influence. – Marvin Kalb
    • Press is a tool for judging and monitoring the freedom we have. – Marvin Kalb
    • Every form of freedom requires responsibility. – Marvin Kalb
    • Never be content! – Marvin Kalb
  • In journals (5 min.): What is the media’s responsibility to its consumers? Discuss.
  • Homework: Take a popular national newspaper, review it and the compare it to a local newspaper. Write a brief comparison essay based on the following guideline questions:
    • Explain the coverage: Editorialized? Hard news? Infotainment? Sensationalism? More national coverage than local?
    • Can you find a mission statement and/or editorial policy? If so, briefly explain. If not, assess what you feel the paper’s mission is.
    • Do you feel the newspaper presents itself in a responsible way? Explain.

Day 3

  • Students will share their homework responses and will have a class discussion. Discussion will turn its focus to school newspapers and students will verbally respond to what they feel should be the mission of a school newspaper.
  • Group students in groups of 3-5 and ask them to work together to develop a mission statement and editorial policy for our school paper. (15 min.)
  • Each group will read their responses and the teacher will give the school’s actual mission and editorial policy statements on the overhead and discuss.
  • The class will work as one group with the teacher at the board. Students will come to a final decision as to what this particular class’s mission statement will be for the year.
  • ***Before next class*** teacher types and prints copies of the statement for each student and posts it in the classroom as well.


  • Journals will be graded for completion and participation.
  • Homework assignments will be graded on a rubric for completion and thoroughness of response, etc.


  • CNN or other news network access
  • various newspapers, magazines, etc.

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