CoverIntroductionTable of Contents with Critical Media Literacy ConnectionsUpdates & Latest AdditionsLearning Pathway: Racial Justice and Black Lives MatterLearning Pathway: Influential WomenLearning Pathway: Student RightsLearning Pathway: Elections 2024, 2022, & 2020Learning Pathway: Current Events Learning Pathway: Critical Media LiteracyTeacher-Designed Learning PlansTopic 1. The Philosophical Foundations of the United States Political System1.1. The Government of Ancient Athens1.2. The Government of the Roman Republic1.3. Enlightenment Thinkers and Democratic Government1.4. British Influences on American Government1.5. Native American Influences on U.S. GovernmentTopic 2. The Development of the United States Government2.1. The Revolutionary Era and the Declaration of Independence2.2. The Articles of Confederation2.3. The Constitutional Convention2.4. Debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists2.5. Articles of the Constitution and the Bill of RightsTopic 3. Institutions of United States Government3.1. Branches of the Government and the Separation of Powers3.2. Checks and Balances Between the Branches of Government3.3. The Roles of the Congress, the President, and the Courts3.4. Elections and Nominations3.5. The Role of Political PartiesTopic 4. The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens4.1. Becoming a Citizen4.2. Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens and Non-Citizens4.3. Civic, Political, and Private Life4.4. Fundamental Principles and Values of American Political and Civic Life4.5. Voting and Citizen Participation in the Political Process4.6. Election Information4.7. Leadership and the Qualities of Political Leaders4.8. Cooperation Between Individuals and Elected Leaders4.9. Public Service as a Career4.10. Liberty in Conflict with Equality or Authority4.11. Political Courage and Those Who Affirmed or Denied Democratic Ideals4.12. The Role of Political Protest4.13. Public and Private Interest Groups, PACs, and Labor UnionsTopic 5. The Constitution, Amendments, and Supreme Court Decisions5.1. The Necessary and Proper Clause5.2. Amendments to the Constitution5.3. Constitutional Issues Related to the Civil War, Federal Power, and Individual Civil Rights5.4. Civil Rights and Equal Protection for Race, Gender, and Disability5.5. Marbury v. Madison and the Principle of Judicial Review5.6. Significant Supreme Court DecisionsTopic 6. The Structure of Massachusetts State and Local Government6.1. Functions of State and National Government6.2. United States and Massachusetts Constitutions6.3. Enumerated and Implied Powers6.4. Core Documents: The Protection of Individual Rights6.5. 10th Amendment to the Constitution6.6. Additional Provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution6.7. Responsibilities of Federal, State and Local Government6.8. Leadership Structure of the Massachusetts Government6.9. Tax-Supported Facilities and Services6.10. Components of Local GovernmentTopic 7. Freedom of the Press and News/Media Literacy7.1. Freedom of the Press7.2. Competing Information in a Free Press7.3. Writing the News: Different Formats and Their Functions7.4. Digital News and Social Media7.5. Evaluating Print and Online Media7.6. Analyzing Editorials, Editorial Cartoons, or Op-Ed CommentariesGlossaryIndex of Terms
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 the Press in reporting the News in 21st century America's digital age. The News is everything of importance that happens when we are not physically present to see it for ourselves. Since we were not there, we rely on the Press to report it to us.

The Press and the Fifth Estate

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. It is known as the Fourth Estate or the Fourth Branch of government in our democracy because it is intended to report openly and fairly on what is happening in the community, the nation and the world.

Some researchers are now referring to social media as the Fifth Estate (Educators Meet the Fifth Estate: Social Media in Education, Elementary School Journal Special Issue, 2021).

This meaning of the word "Press" derives from Johann Gutenberg's history-altering invention in the 1440s of the movable type printing press, a technology that could produce 4000 pages a day, more than 1000 times what an individual human could write by hand. Initially, a printer or publishing house were called the press, but since the 18th century, journalists and the newspaper industry have been known as the press.

In the 1938 case Lovell v. City of Griffin, Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes authored a legal definition of the press as "every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion." That decision overturned the conviction of a Jehovah Witness who had gone door to door selling religious pamphlets and magazine. Hughes said those materials were part of the press and protected by the freedom of the press clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Today, the press means forms of publication from newspapers to blogs.

All of us members of a democratic system of government 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 licensed under CC.0 1.0

Getting the News from the Press

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 develop the critical media literacy skills 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.

To build news and media literacy, students and teachers can go to PBS Newshour Classroom for learning activities including a daily news lesson.

Freedom of the Press and News/Media Literacy Choice Board

Freedom of the Press Choice Board

Freedom of the Press & News/Media Literacy Choice Board (view)
(make your own copy of this choice board to remix/share/use)

Topic 7 Chapters


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