Topic 7

Freedom of the Press and News/Media Literacy

World Press Freedome Day 2017
World Press Freedom Day 2017 Poster from UNESCO licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0-igo

Snapshot of Topic 7

As you explore this topic's standards and modules about the freedom of the press and news/media literacy, consider the following question: How is a free press essential to democratic government?

Massachusetts Standards [8.T7.1-6]

  1. Freedom of the Press
  2. Competing Information in a Free Press
  3. Writing the News: Functions of Different Formats
  4. Digital News and Social Media
  5. Evaluating Print and Online Media
  6. Analyze Editorials, Editorial Cartoons or Op-Ed Commentaries

Advanced Placement Standards

Topic 7 explores the role of people and the press in 21st century America in today's digital age.  

The press is a broad term, referring to the people (reporters, photographers, commentators, editorial writers and behind-the-scenes workers in media organizations) that bring us the news. The press is the Fourth Estate or the Fourth Branch of government in our democracy because it reports openly and fairly on what is happening in the community, the nation and the world. The news is everything of importance that happens when we are not physically present to see it for ourselves.  

As members of a democratic system of government, we rely on the people of the press to report the news about what happens in our neighborhood, city or town, state, nation, and world and help us make sense of what it means for our lives. Only when there is clear and unbiased information available from the press can people make decisions about what public policies and governmental actions they want to support or oppose.

Phone Screen Shows News
Image by Gerd Altmann licenced under CC.0 1.0

The press includes organizations large and small—including the New York Times and the Washington Post newspapers, national television networks like NBC, CNN, or Fox, public radio, and local community-based publications and television stations. It includes writers and journalists, well-known and locally prominent, as well as bloggers and online commentators. The press includes print materials, multimedia (e.g., videos, podcasts, infographics), and social media (e.g., posts and tweets). 

World Press Freedom Day has been celebrated around the world on May 3 every year since 1991 by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Today's students are immersed in a world of computers, smartphones, apps, interactive digital tools, and instantaneously available online information. They get news and political information from Google, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Snapchat and other digital sources unlike older generations of Americans who grew up reading newspapers and magazines, watching television, listening to the radio, and talking about politics in coffee places, lunchrooms, barber shops, community centers, and family dinner tables.

Students are challenged by how different media present facts and opinions in highly polarized political environments.  The Rand Corporation's 2018 report, Truth Decay, identified four alarming trends is how news is presented to readers and viewers in our digital age:

  1. increasing disagreement about objective facts, data, and analysis;
  2. a blurring of the line between fact and opinion;
  3. an increasing relative volume of opinion over fact; and
  4. declining trust in government, media, and other institutions that used to be sources of factual information (Kavanagh & Rich, 2018)

Given these trends, there is a pressing need for everyone to identify and rely on fact-based media that report the news fully, objectively and ethically in digital, electronic and print formats.  How students go about understanding and utilizing the media creates multiple challenges and opportunities for sustaining and energizing our democratic systems of government.