Real News

Freedom of the press requires journalists to be ethical, accurate and fair in their coverage. Freedom of the press demands readers expect reporters to respect their subjects, sources and readers, following a story to inform honestly. Users of news must also think and apply guidelines for identifying true from fake news. As stated in The Post’s masthead: Democracy Dies in Darkness.
Download Classroom Worksheets (PDF) 

Fake news is nothing new, wrote Retropolis columnist Gregory S. Schneider, giving examples of false information about Gen. George Washington contained in a “packet of letters said to have been intercepted.” Washington was well aware of internal and external forces seeking to discredit his character and threaten the principles upon which a new nation was built.


The press must remain independent, not an arm of the government. “The job of the news media when faced with so much uncertainty is not to focus on itself but to return to the fundamentals: ask questions, provide context, inform the public,” wrote Chris Clillizza in The Monday Fix, February 20, 2017.


“The best way to combat allegations — from the president and many of his supporters — that the media is ‘the enemy’ is to simply put our heads down and do our jobs,” Clillizza continued. “We aren’t the story. The story is the story. This isn’t — and never should be — ‘Donald Trump vs. the media.’ It shouldn’t be Trump vs. anything, but how his proposals check out and how they will affect the lives of the Americans. …


“And, when, inevitably, even those best practices produce an honest error, tell readers how it happened and why.”


This guide focus on the foundations of freedom of the press, tips for finding both bias and reliable sources, shedding light on actions and words, and reporting within an environment of fake news allegations. Begin by looking at The Washington Post print masthead where this phrase has been added: Democracy Dies in Darkness.



May 2017

Global Press Freedom
Resource Graphic 
National Gallery of Art

Develop Vocabulary
English, Journalism, Media Literacy, Reading

In the Know is composed of many terms related to “fake” news and failure to exhibit the best of journalistic practice as well as best practices. After reviewing the terms, teachers may give students “Trump’s reelection campaign says more TV networks are refusing to air an ad targeting ‘fake news,’ a news analysis by The Fix that contains many of the terms and an ethical question: When may media refuse to air an advertisement?


Press Madison’s Legacy
English, Government, Journalism, Media Literacy, Social Studies

To appreciate freedom of the press and freedom of speech, one needs to understand why each was so important to our Founding Fathers. Give students the KidsPost article “No monument for Madison. But one of his legacies is freedom of the press.”

"First Amendment Protection of the Free Press," discussion questions to use with the article, are provided.  

Older students could be encouraged to read “Press Attacks” on the Mount Vernon Web site. Over George Washington's two terms, newspapers grew from less than 50 to more than 250 by 1800. Many were partisan and opposed to the government.

Read KidsPost Essay Winner
English, Journalism, Media Literacy, Social Studies

Fourth through eighth grade KidsPost readers were invited to write a short essay on whether the free-press guarantees in the First Amendment to the Constitution were still important (no more than 300 words). Read “On World Press Freedom Day, student shares her opinion on why a free press matters.” Discuss the ideas that Jahnavi Dave presents.


Teachers may ask their students to write a response to the question after reading “No monument for Madison. But one of his legacies is freedom of the press.”


Identify Bias
Art, English, Journalism, Media Literacy, Social Studies

This activity introduces students to some of the fundamentals of journalism: Accuracy, Balance and Clarity. Discuss with students what each of these terms means. Bias by intent or omission has no place in honest reporting.


Finding Bias in the News” is a comparison activity with questions to help guide the reading and comprehension. This activity gives teachers the opportunity to introduce bias in the selection of photographs and how photographs assist in telling the story.


Balance and accuracy can be achieved through the use of reliable and credible people to interview. Discuss “A Guide to Finding Reliable Sources.”


Investigate to Verify
Government, Journalism, Media Literacy

Student journalists have a duty to inform their school community about student, team and club activities and accomplishments, about school board and administration decisions, and about community events that may be of interest to their readers. They may also investigate information that raises questions.


In the 2016-2017 academic year scholastic journalists in Pittsburg, Kansas, were writing a story to introduce the new principal to their readers when they made a discovery. Read about their investigation:
• “Pittsburg students recognized in D.C. for story about principal’s shady credentials,”

• “Climbing a Mountain: Pittsburg H.S. Students”  and

• “What protections do student journalists really have? Check your state on this map.”

Discuss the importance of student journalism with your students. Do you have an active student journalism or media program: journalism class and print and/or online newspaper, broadcast journalism class and air time, radio or podcast class or club, and literary-art magazine production? The Journalism Education Association and state affiliates offer conventions, workshops and online resources.


Facts, Please
Resource Graphic 

Read Editorial Cartoons
Art, Government, Journalism, Media Literacy

Editorial cartoonists are never without subject matter. From local leaders to international events, cartoonists reveal, satirize, explain and criticize through visual commentary. We look at Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles’ commentary on ongoing fake news claims, press response and responsibility. The cartoons are presented chronologically in two groups: Tom Toles | the cartoons and Read the Editorial Cartoons, discussion questions for closer reading. On the second page of cartoons, a box is provided for your students to try their hand at being editorial cartoonists.


April 11, 2017. Teachers may compare Tom Toles sketchpad work with those of other cartoonists in “How cartoonists are ridiculing Sean Spicer’s Hitler comments,” by Comic Riffs columnist Michael Cavna. Discuss the images and words used to satirize and comment on Spicer’s remarks.


Spicer did acknowledge he was wrong to make the comparison. Teachers may wish to show students his CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer. Discuss the role of the press in this situation.


Avoid Bias in Photographs
Art, Journalism, Media Literacy, Photography

Teachers should remind students of the best practices in journalism (Accuracy, Balance and Clarity) and cover the definitions of “bias,” “false light” and “omission” and the photographic terms “angle,” “composition” and “lighting.”


Bias and placing subjects in a false light can be done with word choice, selection of sources, omission of information and choice of photographs. Read “When your home is at risk: Trailer park families fight eviction over sewage leaks” which is provided as a local story to which you can apply these concepts. Use the discussion questions in “What Do Angle, Lighting and Composition Communicate?” to guide this study.


For a photography bonus, teachers could also share these two photography-based pieces:

What it’s like to have under three minutes to photograph president-elect Trump

One photographer’s view of President Trump’s first 100 days


Shed Light on Darkness
Government, Journalism, Media Literacy, U.S. History

Read “Fake news is nothing new: Just ask George Washington” and  “The mother who made George Washington — and made him miserable” to discuss the historic example of false attacks on and fake news about George Washington.


Older students could be encouraged to read “Press Attacks” on the Mount Vernon Web site. Over his two terms, newspapers grew from less than 50 to more than 250 by 1800. Many were partisan and opposed to the government.


Teacher may include  “The truth is losing” by columnist David Ignatius to relate the place of truth in a global information war and in the marketplace of ideas. This essay is of particular interest to government and U.S. History educators.


Read About Journalists at Work

Can Social Media Do Damage?
English, Government, Journalism, Media Literacy

Teachers may begin this activity by asking students about their use of social media. Some of the questions might include:
• Do students have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, website and other online accounts?
• How often do they produce content for social media? How often do they share or retweet material?
• Do they check the content for truth or validity before sharing with others?


How best can mainstream media, such as The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, utilize social media?


Two Post articles are reprinted to give different perspectives on the use of social media by media professionals. Read and discuss “Once again, mainstream news outlets miss the social-media boat” by Post media reporter Paul Farhi.

The second guest commentary relates how the spread of fake news via social media can affect one’s life. Read and discuss “I was a victim of a smear campaign. I understand the power of fake news.”


Meet Producers of Fake News
Character Education, Government, Journalism, Media Literacy, Reading

There are individuals and organizations that use print and online platforms to propagate misinformation, lies and rumors for their personal gain or to put others in false light. Read and discuss “For ‘the new yellow journalists,’ it’s about clicks and bucks.” Questions would include:
• Who are the producers of content on the website
• What process do they follow before publishing content?
• What motivates Wade and Goldman?
• What do students think of the practice of followers forwarding content? Without verifying veracity of content?
• In what way do the concepts of accuracy, balance, clarity, ethics and integrity apply?


This article may be read in conjunction with a guest commentary, “The truth: In danger once more.” Actor, director and environmental activist Robert Redford writes from the perspective of the 45th anniversary of the movie, All the President’s Men, and his concern for our democracy.


Fake News
English, Journalism, Media Literacy, Social Studies, U.S. History

Premise: We need an informed citizenry who know how to think critically about news media, not people who blindly believe and propagate outright lies.


After teachers discuss the responsibility of the professional press to provide accurate and balanced news with clarity, they should discuss the presence of false and misleading information online and in print. Satire and parady may need to be distinguished at this time.


The student activity “Real or Fake News?” takes students through the steps of identifying and verifying information that may be found online and presented as news.

Teachers may wish to cover “Tips for being a better consumer of news” before beginning or after the first section in the three sections of the activity.


Extend this activity with discussion of “Pizzagate: From rumor, to hashtag, to gunfire in D.C."


Additional examples are found in “Americans — especially but not exclusively Trump voters — believe crazy wrong things.”



Post NIE Guide Editor & Writer | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter


Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

Angle Aspect of a story which a journalist chooses to highlight and develop. Usually the most newsworthy of its key points. 
Balance Basic journalism principle of giving both sides of an argument in a fair way so readers or listeners can make up their own mind.
Bias Favoring one side, viewpoint or argument. Media bias, or reporting that favors one perspective or position on a story, can distort the reporter’s ability to fairly weigh the evidence and to reach a fair and accurate judgment.
Fabricate To make up for the purpose of deception. In journalism, a made-up story that brings disgrace to a reporter and his or her publication.  
Fake news Deliberate misinformation, hoax; written and published with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically. This is not the same as satire or parody that is read with awareness of the writer’s intent.
Falsehood Untrue statement; absence of accuracy or truth
False light

Legally: 1) The defendant published some information about the plaintiff; 2) the information must portray the plaintiff in a false or misleading light; 3) the information is highly offensive or embarrassing to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities; 4) the defendant must have published the information with reckless disregard as to its offensiveness (Source: Findlaw)

Lie A false statement made with intent to deceive
Misinformation To give false or misleading information; information that is incorrect; may be unintentional or it may be stated deliberately to mislead.
Mistake To be wrong, but without malice or intent to harm 
Omission Something neglected or left undone. This may be done on purpose to avoid presenting all sides of an issue or it may be done unintentionally.
Reliable Source Someone who has competence or expertise in a field of study; an eyewitness; trusted to present information with accuracy, honesty and without conflicts of interest 
Slant To interpret or present in line with a special interest; such as slant a story toward an older or younger audience or readership 
Spin Ensuring that others interpret an event from a particular point of view; the methods and activities employed to establish and promote a favorable relationship with the public. In politics, to create or provide an interpretation of actions or events to put your position or candidate in a favorable light; in its extreme a disingenuous, deceptive and manipulative tactic.
Verification Act or process of confirming or checking the accuracy of; the state of being confirmed or having the accuracy of checked 
District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.




Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

English. The student will use pre-reading strategies appropriate to both the text and purpose for reading by surveying the text, accessing prior knowledge, formulating questions, setting purpose(s), and making predictions. (Goal 1, Indicator 1.1.1)


English. The student will explain and give evidence to support perceptions about print and non-print works. (Goal 1, Expectation 1.3.1)


English. The student will compose oral, written, and visual presentations that inform, persuade, and express personal ideas. (Goal 2, Expectation 2.1)
• Composing to explain an idea or examine a topic
• Including relevant and complete support of ideas
• Using language language carefully and correctly


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

English, Reading. The student will read and analyze a variety of nonfiction texts.

g) Analyze and synthesize information in order to solve problems, answer questions, or complete a task.

h) Draw conclusions and make inferences on explicit and implied information using textual support as evidence.

i) Differentiate between fact and opinion.


English, Communication: Speaking, Listening, Media Literacy. The student will examine how values and points of view are included or excluded and how media influences beliefs and behaviors. (11.2 and 12.2)

c) Evaluate sources including advertisements, editorials, blogs, Web sites and other media relationships between intent, factual content and opinion.


English, Communication: Speaking, Listening, Media Literacy. The student will examine how values and points of view are included or excluded and how media influences beliefs and behaviors. (12.2)

b) Determine the author’s purpose and intended effect on the audience for media messages.

 Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

English Language Arts/Reading Informational Text. Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.8)


English Language Arts/Reading Informational Text. Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.8)


English Language Arts/Reading Informational Text. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.8)


English Language Arts/Reading Informational Text. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.7)


English Language Arts/Reading Informational Text. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.6)


Common Core standards may be found at


National Journalism Standards

Knowledge of Curriculum and Content/Classroom Knowledge. Journalism teachers understand

• A solid foundation in press law and ethics as it applies to scholastic media, including First Amendment-related rights and responsibilities

• The writing process as it relates to journalism to include brainstorming, questioning, reporting, gathering and synthesizing information, writing, editing and evaluating the final multimedia product

• A variety of forms of journalistic writing, including news, features, opinion and their appropriate style

• Importance of matching language use, angle, and style with intended audience


Standards for Journalism Educations may be found at