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Lesson Plans

Gotcha: Exploring the Role of the Investigative Reporter

Margaret Hagemeister at Natick High School in Natick, Mass.

Margaret Hagemeister
Natick High School
Natick, Mass.

This lesson plan was developed by Hagemeister as part of required work while attending The Media and Democracy Institute at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Title: “Gotcha!” – Exploring the Role of the Investigative Reporter

Description of School and Students

This unit will be taught to 11th– and 12th-grade students in a college-preparatory level journalism class. The class is comprised of 28 students at Natick High School, a public high school in a middle class suburb 17 miles west of Boston.

Generative Topic

Investigative Reporting

Generative Object

Film – "All the President’s Men"

Understanding Goals

  1. Essential Questions
    1. What is investigative reporting?
    2. What is the role of an investigative reporter?
  2. Critical Engagement Questions
    1. What are the skills and personal characteristics necessary to be a successful investigative reporter?
    2. How does investigative reporting differ from other types of reporting?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale and Time Line

This unit will culminate a semester’s study of print journalism, giving the students the opportunity to implement the writing and reporting skills that they have built through the program of study. The unit will take four to five weeks, allowing students adequate class time to research, interview, draft and revise the culminating activity for the semester: writing an investigative report.

Activity 1

Students will view the film “All the President’s Men.” While viewing the film, students will keep a viewing journal in which they enumerate the steps in the process that Woodward and Bernstein use to investigate the Watergate scandal. After viewing the film, students will use the information in their journals to write a two-page paper answering the questions:

  • What is the role of the investigative reporter to his/her publication and to society as a whole?
  • What skills, talents, proclivities, and personal attributes are necessary for success in that job?
  • Do you think you would make a good investigative reporter? Why?

Activity 2

Students will come to class having read an investigative report assigned by the teacher that has been published in a recent newspaper or magazine. Students will also be shown in class an investigative report culled from the myriad of news magazine shows on television. Students will complete a Venn diagram in which they compare and contrast investigative reports with general assignment and beat articles that they have read and written earlier in the semester. Students will share their Venns in a discussion with the entire class.

Activity 3

Working in pairs, students will write a well-researched, in-depth investigative report about a topic of their choice that they feel has interest to teen audiences. Students will be required to conduct a minimum of five interviews (in-person, by telephone, or online [real time chat or e-mail]), research background information from print and electronic sources, and follow at least two leads that they uncover during the investigation that they didn’t know existed when they started. The article will be approximately 2,000 words in length.


  1. Two-page paper on the role of the investigative reporter. Student should address all questions listed in Activity 1, giving specific examples from the film to buttress their arguments.
  2. Venn Diagram comparing/contrasting investigative reporting to general assignment or beat reporting.
  3. Students’ own investigative reports. Students will be graded using a rubric which will include the following: meeting requirements for researching the article; organizing information from a variety of sources into a coherent, journalistic piece; attributing sources appropriately; striving for accuracy, objectivity, fairness, and balance in coverage; editing and proofreading the final draft.


  • “All the President’s Men.” dir. Alan J. Pakula. Warner Bros., 1976.
  • Blank Venn Diagram
  • Samples of investigative reports from print and video sources
  • Teacher-created handout for requirements and expectations students’ own investigative reports
  • Teacher-created rubric for grading the reports

Jonathan Goldstein’s lesson plan, "You Make the Call: The Ethical Dilemmas that Face Reporters Today" was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 1999, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 179.

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