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Real Fake News: Exploring Actual Examples of Newspaper Bias

Help students get beyond the buzzword.

Tanner Higgin | August 29, 2019

It seems like any news report shared on Twitter or YouTube is inundated with "fake news" claims: comments calling out something for being "liberal propaganda" or "paid for by Russia." Most often these claims are just a way of dismissing facts or analysis that someone disagrees with.

The thing is, there are bigger, more harmful examples of bias and bad reportage. These rare but educational incidents get lost in the flurry of baseless "fake news" accusations. Case in point: Mark I. Pinsky at Poynter issued a powerful report on the shameful role Southern newspapers like the Orlando Sentinel and the Montgomery Advertiser played in normalizing and covering up injustice, racism, and violence against Black people in the decades following the Civil War, through the civil rights movement, and continuing today. Here we have an actual, high-stakes example of the news getting something wrong. It's important for students to examine cases like this -- and the political contexts surrounding them -- to build a more informed understanding of "fake news."

Recommended for:

Grades: 10-12
Subjects: ELA, social studies, newspaper/media, digital citizenship

Prep for teachers

In the classroom

Warm-up (five to 15 minutes):

  • Before screening the video, ask students to take notes while they watch and to write down the five values.
  • Show the Ethical Journalism Network video "The 5 Core Values of Journalism."

Pressing play on the YouTube video below will set third-party cookies controlled by Google if you are logged in to Chrome. See Google's cookie information for details.

Context and discussion (30 minutes):

  • Optional: Hand out copies of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
  • First: Explain to students that even though they strive for accuracy and truth, sometimes newspapers get things wrong. And because they must be "accountable and transparent," they'll publish revisions, retractions, and even apologies.
  • Second: Project or hand out this AP article on the Montgomery Advertiser's apology for its coverage of lynchings. Make sure to explain that the newspaper was edited by a Confederate veteran who had a position of power and a vested interest in minimizing the damage of lynchings and blaming victims.
  • Third: Facilitate a discussion. Here are some possible questions you can ask.
    • Did the original reporting follow the journalist code of ethics? Which parts did?
    • Did the apology follow the code of ethics? Which parts?
    • How might an apology like this help or hurt people's perceptions about news today? If you were a newspaper editor, would you run an apology?
    • What did the newspapers stand to gain from minimizing racial violence against Black people?
    • Can you think of any similarly marginalized or disempowered groups subject to news and media biases today?

Exit ticket or homework (students can do in class or at home):


Power of Voice student handout preview


Possible follow-ups

Editor's Note: This resource is part of a monthly series that helps teachers facilitate classroom discussions about trending and timely issues in the news and media. For more, browse our library of News and Media Literacy articles.