The History of American Journalism

Student Resources newspaper headline Teacher Resources

Burr_HamiltonduelThe Burr and Hamilton duel, 11 July, 1804, at Weehawken, N.J. from the Library of Congress


Background Knowledge


Research Scenario

Journalism has played a pivotal role in the development of our nation, starting with The New England Courant, published by the older brother of Benjamin Franklin. By the 1770s, there were 89 newspapers in the colonies, most of which were critical of British power. The newspaper industry continued to grow, as did its power and influence - so far as to fuel a duel between to famous politicians, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

Over time, the practice of journalism became less associated with political factions and moved toward an expectation of balanced reporting. Technological advances such as the telegraph, radio, television, and the Internet also played significant roles in the shaping of journalism as we know it today.

You have been selected as the Editor in Chief of your school paper. As a result, you must set the standard for journalistic excellence. What will be your paper's mission, philosophy and medium? To take on this responsibility, you will have to complete research on the history of American journalism and prepare as any respected journalist would. Consider the following question:

How have the practices, purpose and philosophy of journalism evolved over time?

First, you will need to build some background knowledge about this topic. Start by looking at one of the newest journalism medium, blogs. Read "Blogs Give Citizens a Platform" and complete the reading comprehension activity.

newspaper boyImage from

Task and Product

Students will be assigned to a small group to research a period in American history. Each team will be expected to create a multimedia presentation highlighting significant political events, famous journalists, technological advances, legal or government regulations and social issues that played a significant role in shaping the practice of journalism. The class will be responsible for taking notes on all the presentations in order to respond to the essential question.

Periods in American Journalism

Based on this research, students will refer to at least three significant events or individuals in American history that have inspired their pursuit of journalistic excellence. Using the lessons learned from these examples, students will compose a "Philosopy of Journalism" to serve as a mission statement for their paper.

DeweydefeatstrumanPresident Harry Truman holds a copy of the Chicago Tribune on November 3, 1948 announcing his loss despite the fact that he had won the previous day. The Tribune had jumped the gun, incorrectly speculating his defeat. Associated Press photo by Byron Rollins.


The following scoring tools may be used or adapted by your teacher to evaluate your research process and your final product and presentation.

Research Process Assessments:
  • Daily (Formative) Assesssments
  • Research Process (Summative) Assessments: Student/Self | Teacher

Group Collaboration Assessments:

Final Product Assessments: 

Cassius ClayCassius Clay points to a headline to prove he's not the only one protesting war in Vietnam. March, 1966. Source Library of Congress.


Essential Question:

How have the practices, purpose and philosophy
of journalism evolved over time?

Subsidiary Questions:

  • How much influence does an individual have on the content of the news?
  • How is the craft of journalism shaped by the medium in which it is delivered?
  • Do political and financial issues influence the content and method of reporting?
  • Is it important to maintain an objective point of view in journalism?
  • What other questions should you consider as you research your time period for the presentation and develop your position paper?

Oprah WinfreyOprah Winfrey, December 2007.
Photo by vargas2040

Gather and Sort

Use a variety of sources from the Student Resources page to gather information about your topic.

  • Start by reading an overview of the history of journalism and highlight key words to use in more specific searches.
  • Skim and scan for information that will help answer your questions.
  • Store your relevant sources in a working bibliography, using a citation generator such as EasyBib or Citation Machine.
  • Don't forget to gather copyright friendly images to use in your presentation.

Sort your research findings using a note-taking template or a Web 2.0 tool.

Be sure to avoid plagiarism and remember to cite your sources. If you are struggling, don't forget to check out the Information Literacy Process Model for a step-by-step guide and additional tools to assist you.

Rush LimbaughRush Limbaugh, April 2006 from the State of Florida


Analyze your research notes

  • Use an outline or graphic organizer of your own design to prioritize the information you collected on a period in American history.
  • Did you address each of the subsidiary questions and any others that may assist you in answering the essential question?
  • Refer to the presentation rubric to make sure you have covered your subject thoroughly.

Synthesize your research findings

  • As you plan your 2-3 minute presentation, use a storyboard template to draft your ideas.
  • Consider which multimedia tool will best exhibit your period's significance and contributions, such as: PowerPoint, PhotoStory, Moviemaker, or a Web 2.0 tool like Animoto.
    • Does your period have print images, audio files, or video content that you can use to illustrate significant contributions?
  • Take notes while your classmates present their projects in order to compare methods, mediums, and perspectives on journalism over time using a note-taking organizer for presentations.
  • Reviewing your own research, notes on the presentations, and class discussion, draft your "Philosophy of Journalism."

Evaluate your finished product

  • Review your "Philosophy of Journalism." Did you address the essential question, as well as the subsidiary questions thoroughly?
  • Does your position reflect on at least three significant political events, famous journalists, technological advances, legal or government regulations and social issues referenced in the presentations?
  • Refer to the rubric and use it as a checklist for required criteria.
  • How have significant events in journalistic history shaped your own interpretation of journalism's role today?
  • Is this your best work? Revise your draft for a professional appearance and technical polish.

Fareed ZakariaFareed Zakaria, October 2007. Image by Larry D. Moore, used under a Creative Commons ShareAlike License.




Background image by Norman Frances through Creative Commons licence.



With your teacher's guidance, meet in small groups to compare your "Philosophy of Journalism"with your peers to collaborate on a class "Code of Ethics." Post this code in the classroom, on your class website or wiki page.


Looking back on your research process, what was the most difficult step for you? When did you struggle? Did you seek help at any point along the way? What could you do next time to make the task easier for you?

Extension Activity:

How has the development of interactive media (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Skype, YouTube, etc.) redefined how news is generated and consumed?

As you think about this question, consider the following visuals:

This infographic by TopRankOnlineMarketing illustrates some of the two way nature Blogs have in mass communications today.

A comic interpretation of "real time journalism."