a hidden life

About the Film:

News War, a four-part FRONTLINE investigation, examines the political, cultural, legal, and economic forces challenging the news media today and how the press has reacted in turn. This lesson plan is based on the second film of the series. In Secrets, Sources & Spin, Part II, FRONTLINE explores today's high-profile debates over the role of the press, including clashes between journalists and the government over whether or not a reporter has the right to keep a source confidential. The program includes interviews with San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, who made national headlines exposing steroid abuse in professional baseball by drawing from the athletes' own grand jury testimony, which had been leaked to the Chronicle. The program also features independent journalist and blogger Josh Wolf, who was jailed for refusing to turn over a videotape of a San Francisco protest to the FBI.

Watching the Film:

Teachers can either assign viewing as homework or show the film in class. The focus of the lesson plan is the final segment of the second part of News War, which features the story of independent journalist and blogger Josh Wolf.

A Note to Teachers:

For classes in government, civics, U.S. history, journalism, language arts, and/or current events; Grades 11, 12, and AP classes. The activities help students understand the symbiotic relationship between a free press and democracy.

Discussion Questions:

A list of questions for the class to discuss after viewing the film.

Featured Lesson Plan:

Journalists and the Constitution

Lesson Objectives:
By writing an amicus brief in the case of a freelance journalist currently imprisoned for not turning over footage to the federal government, students will become familiar with:

Additional Lesson Ideas:

Media-Free Democracy
Students will demonstrate comprehension of the media's role in a democracy by writing a fictional account of what life might be like in the United States if the government controlled all available news media.

Compare and Contrast
Students will research and evaluate the role of the press in other countries and explore comparisons with the issues that journalists raise in News War.

A Country Without Free Speech
After reviewing the 2004 Knight Foundation study results that indicated weak support for First Amendment rights among high school students, students will review the First Amendment and craft a response to a hypothetical peer who favors the removal of the First Amendment from the Constitution.

Additional Resources:

An annotated list of relevant Web sites and articles.

Purchasing Information:

News War can be purchased from Shop PBS for Teachers. Also, teachers and students can watch the film streamed in its entirety on FRONTLINE's Web site www.pbs.org/frontline/newswar.


This teacher's guide was developed by Simone Bloom Nathan of Media Education Consultants with input from Faith Rogow of Insighters Educational Consulting. Advisers were Ellen Greenblatt, University High School, San Francisco, Debra Plafker Gutt, Stuyvesant High School, New York, and educational consultant/curriculum writer Gregory Timmons.