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Lesson Plans

Publish or Perish: The rights of journalists to report on war developments

Jeffrey Susla of Woodstock Middle School in Woodstock, Conn.

Jeffrey J. Susla
Woodstock Middle School
Woodstock, Conn.

Title: Publish or Perish: The Rights of Journalists to Report on War Developments

Description of School and Students
This curriculum was intended for 9th- and 10th-grade social studies students at a quasi-public rural high school in northeastern Connecticut in a first-year trial of block scheduling. The exercises are designed to be implemented in the block to classes of 25 students.

Generative Topic
News Reporting

Generative Objects

  • A picture of a journalist at the warfront (e.g., Peter Arnett, Ernie Pyle, Christine Amanapour)
  • a newspaper with edited or blacked out stories
  • declassified government documents.

Understanding Goals

  1. A. Essential or Guiding Questions
    1. What is censorship?
    2. What is fair game in reporting?
  2. Critical Engagement Questions
    1. Should/must war journalists report all that she/he sees, hears, and encounters?
    2. Is there information that should not be reported?
    3. What are the responsibilities contained within the First Amendment?
    4. What/who is the ultimate arbiter of this dilemma?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale, and Time Line

In a unit on reporting, students will explore the rights and responsibilities of journalists to report American war events with the American military’s need for secrecy within its military operations.

Activity 1
A discussion of the First Amendment. This discussion is preceded in my colleague’s social studies class by an exercise in which a student, chosen and privately consulted before the class starts, openly disagrees with that teacher’s instruction, curses him loudly, and leaves the room. The students are then engaged in a discussion of the parameters of free speech within the classroom and are asked to comment on the student’s behavior. It is then that the student is allowed to return to the classroom, and the purpose of the insult explained in full.

Activity 2
Students are engaged in an outdoor game of "Capture the Flag." Six reporters are Selected prior to the game’s start. They are allowed to answer team players’ questions about the movements/location of opposing players. The reporters, unbeknownst to the teams, may answer the questions falsely — thereby skewing the game’s outcome. The misinformation presented by the reporters will be examined in a postgame discussion.

Activity 3
Students watch Alfred Hitchcock’s "Foreign Correspondent" (1940), where an American reporter (Joel McCrea) learns of German activities in Europe prior to the start of World War II. The British government will not allow the reporter to broadcast the news. The American is on a hot story — what is he to do?

Activity 4
Give the class specific historical examples of when journalists were forbidden to publish/or refused to reveal their sources for what they had learned about events such as:

  • the development of the atomic bomb ("The Manhattan Project")
  • the Bay of Pigs invasion
  • the bombing of Cambodia;
  • the identity of "Deep Throat" (Watergate and Woodward/Bernstein).


  • Activity 1: Journal entry and class discussion on the activity.
  • Activity 2: Have reporters give a presentation to the class on their knowledge/feelings concerning their ability to affect the game’s outcome.
  • Activity 3: After watching the film, students are to write an essay using one of the film’s several voices:
    • the stifled American reporter
    • the British diplomat who wants to avoid widespread panic
    • the German spy who will kill to stop the information from being released.
  • Activity 4: Students present their writing to the class, allowing for a discussion of the moral imperatives of the above scenarios.


  • Godwin, Mike. "Cyber Rights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age." Times Book/Random House.
  • Hitchcock, Alfred. "Foreign Correspondent" (1940)
  • The New York Times (microfiche and CD ROM)
  • Assorted biographies of famous news reporters (Cronkite, Brinkley, Arnett, Amanapour, Pyle, etc.)

Jeffrey Susla’s lesson plan, "Publish or Perish: The Rights of Journalists to Report on War Developments"" was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 1998, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 233.

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