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Lesson Plans

How Does the Public Judge What a Good News Source Is?

Kevin Wittman of Sycamore High School in Cincinnati.

Kevin Wittman
Sycamore High School
Cincinnati, Ohio

Title: How Does the Public Judge What is a Good News Source?

Description of school and students

This unit will be taught over the course of several weeks. Fridays of every week in American History class are dedicated to current events and issues. This is intended to be the first Friday’s lesson so students can learn what news sources are credible for use as a news outlet and what information is for consumption or entertainment. This unit will be taught to an 11th-grade American History class. The school district is located in an affluent suburb of Cincinnati. Most of the students are white upper-middle class and bound for college. Each period lasts 50 minutes.

Generative Topic

Media Analysis

Generative Objects

National Enquirer, The New York Times, taped network news broadcast, taped soft news show, advertisement or clothing catalog.

Understanding Goals

  • What is or what makes news?
  • What criteria should people use to be critical news consumers?
  • How can the public discern news from entertainment?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale, and Time Line

  • Have the students begin by listing on the chalk board sources of news. After they finish, ask a student to place the suggestions into their categories. One category is "good news source," another category is "light on news," and the third category is "no news just entertainment." Introduce Pippa Norris’ "Norris 5" — her 5 five criteria for analyzing media.
    • Informative vs. superficial
    • Accurate and truthful vs. false and deceptive
    • Objective vs. biased
    • Pluralistic vs. insular viewpoint
    • Balanced vs. weighted side
  • Using the five criteria, look at examples from the National Enquirer, The New York Times, network news broadcasts, and weekly news entertainment shows. Have students analyze these examples based on the Norris 5. Discuss which of the five can be found in the examples. Homework until the next Friday will be to Select one of the five criteria and find an example of it.
  • Have class share their news stories they did for homework. Students explain where they got their news and which of the five criteria does apply. After students have shared ask them which of the examples is news. Pass around the advertisement example and ask the class to distinguish between news and other forms of information. End class by having students to define the word "news."
  • Bring in five examples of the Norris 5 and quiz the class on which criteria they represent. For example an article from The Globe on Burt Reynolds’ affair with a flight attendant is a false and deceptive example. Have the class generate generalizations on "good news sources." Where can the public find them? Are these certain aspects to news that will never be news, but hype and entertainment?


  • Quiz students on the Norris 5.
  • Throughout the year, have students judge their sources of news they bring. in during current events days.
  • Write a reflective journal on a analyzed piece of news. Share with the class.
  • Have the students form small groups of two or three. Have each act out for the class an example of poor media and good media as judged by the "Norris 5".


  • Video copies of news broadcasts.
  • Video copies of soft news shows.
  • The New York Times
  • The Cincinnati Enquirer
  • National Enquirer

Kevin Wittman’s lesson plan, "How Does the Public Judge What is a Good News Source?" was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 1998, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 193.

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