CoverMedia Literacy Activities for Civics Learning
Defining Critical Media LiteracyTopic 1. Foundations of the United States Political System1.1 Democracy in Social Media Policies and Community Standards1.2 The Internet as a Public Utility1.3  21st Century Women STEM Innovators1.4 Media Coverage of Kings, Queens, and Royal Families1.5 Representations of Native Americans in Films, Local History Publications, and School MascotsTopic 2. The Development of United States Government2.1 Declarations of Independence on Social Media2.2 Media Marketing and Government Regulation of Self-Driving Cars and Electric Vehicles2.3 Representations of and Racism Toward Black Americans in the Media2.4 Political Debates Through Songs from Hamilton: An American Musical2.5 Bill of Rights on TwitterTopic 3. Institutions of United States Government3.1: Hollywood Movies About the Branches of Government3.2: Writing an Impeachment Press Release3.3: Members of Congress' Use of Social Media3.4: Political Impacts of Public Opinion Polls3.5: Website Design for New Political PartiesTopic 4. The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens4.1: Immigration in the News4.2: Portrayals of Immigrants in Television and Film4.3: COVID-19 Information Evaluation4.4: Women Political Leaders in the Media4.5: Online Messaging by Special Interest Groups4.6: Digital Games for Civic Engagement4.7: Social Media and the Elections4.8: Images of Political Leaders and Political Power4.9: Media Spin in the Coverage of Political Debates4.10: Celebrities' Influence on Politics4.11: Political Activism Through Social Media4.12: Media Recruitment of Public Sector Workers4.13: Images of Teachers and Teaching4.14: For Whom Is and Could Your School Be Named4.15: Representing Trans Identities4.16: Media Framing of the Events of January 6, 20214.17: Music as Protest Art4.18: PACs, Super PACs, and Unions in the MediaTopic 5. The Constitution, Amendments, and Supreme Court Decisions5.1: Prohibition in the Media5.2: The Equal Rights Amendment on Twitter and Other Social Media5.3: Civil War Era News Stories and Recruitment Advertisements5.4: Representations of Gender and Race on Currency5.5: The Equality Act on Twitter5.6: Reading Supreme Court Dissents Aloud5.7: Television Cameras in CourtroomsTopic 6. The Structure of State and Local Government6.1: Native American Mascots and Logos6.2: A Constitution for the Internet6.3: Military Recruitment and the Media6.4: Your Privacy on Social Media6.5: Pandemic Policy Information in the Media6.6: Gendered Language in Media Coverage of Women in Politics6.7: Gendered Toy Marketing6.8: Environmental Campaigns Using Social Media6.9: Trusted Messengers, the Media, and the Pandemic6.10: Online Campaigning for Political Office6.11: Advertising the Lottery Online and In Print6.12: Local Governments, Social Media and Digital Democracy6.13: Protecting the CommonsTopic 7. Freedom of the Press and News/Media Literacy7.1: Press Freedom in the United States and the World7.2: Objectivity and Reporting the News from All Sides7.3: Investigative Journalism and Social Change7.4: News Photographs & Newspaper Design7.5: How Reporters Report Events7.6: Recommendation Algorithms on Social Media Platforms7.7: YouTube Content Creators7.8: Fake News Investigation and Evaluation7.9: Paywalls and Access to Online News7.10: Critical Visual Analysis of Online and Print Media7.11: Memes and TikToks as Political Cartoons7.12: Women Reporters in the Movies7.13: Design a 21st Century Indie Bookstore

7.9: Paywalls and Access to Online News

For many people in the United States and around the world, access to news online is limited by paywalls, a method of restricting information to those who pay for it through purchases or subscriptions. Paywalls are now an ever-present feature of today’s online news media environment.

Brick wall
Image by Pexels is under Pixabay License

Researchers from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford (2019) looked at four types of news outlets in the United States and Europe (i.e., daily newspapers, weekly newspapers and news magazines, Television news, and digital news) and found three primary types of paywalls across the platforms:

Many major newspapers and news magazines charge readers for some or all of their digital content using a freemium model. The New York Times or The Washington Post, for example, require paid subscriptions to view all of their content while making some stories, especially those related to pressing news, free to the public. OnThe Washington Post Coronavirus page there is a note that states: "The Washington Post is providing our daily live updates, comprehensive guide to the pandemic and our Coronavirus Updates newsletter for free, so that all readers have access to this important information about the coronavirus pandemic." 

Paywalls are not the only business model being used by digital news companies. Some choose to make money by collecting, selling, and using data from visitors to their websites. They collect personally identifiable information from readers, share it with third-parties to create targeted advertising profiles, and then populate their news website with targeted ads. The revenue from user data and targeted advertisements allows these news outlets to "freely" share their articles with the public.

Certain right-wing digital news outlets, as well as Fox News Channel (Fox News is the most watched channel with some 2.14 million viewers in 2021), have the advantage of providing information for free while the New York Times and other center-leaning sources provide access to information behind different types of paywalls.

The implications of pay-for-news business practices are huge -- Paywalls mean that unless people are willing or able to pay for news sources, they will get ‘locked out’ of information gathered by credible and trustworthy journalists. At a time when everyone is encouraged to pay close attention to current events, what happens when people who can't afford subscriptions or purchase articles are restricted from accessing information from news outlets? 

In the following activity, you will have the opportunity to evaluate your level of access to different sources of news and information.

Activity: Compare and Contrast Access to Major Newspapers and Television News

Resources

Connecting to the Standards

  • Massachusetts Civics & Government Standards
    • Evaluate the benefits and challenges of digital news and social media to a democratic society. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T7.4]
  • ISTE Standards
    • Digital Citizen
      • 2d: Students manage their personal data to maintain digital privacy and security and are aware of data-collection technology used to track their navigation online.
    • Knowledge Constructor
      • 3b: Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.
      • 3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions. 
    • Creative Communicator
      • 6a: Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
      • 6b: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
      • 6d: Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences.
  • DLCS Standards
    • Safety and Security (CAS.a)
    • Interpersonal and Societal Impact (CAS.c)
    • Digital Tools (DTC.a)
    • Collaboration and Communication (DTC.b)
    • Research (DTC.a)
  • English Language Arts > History/Social Studies Common Core Standards
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH6-8.6
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH9-10.6