Lesson Plans

How to find and analyze under-reported stories: Critical thinking, text analysis and writing

Image by Zbigniew Bzdak/The Chicago Tribune. Edit by Claire Seaton. United States, 2020.

Image by Zbigniew Bzdak/The Chicago Tribune. Edit by Claire Seaton. United States, 2020.

Printable PDFs/Word Documents for this Lesson:

  • Full lesson for students [PDF] [Word]
  • Reporting:
    • “Health Care Workers Seek to Flatten COVID-19’s ‘Second Curve’ --Their Rising Mental Anguish” by Rodrigo Pérez Ortega for Science Magazine [PDF]
    • “El bus que nunca llega: Los migrantes varados en las calles de Lima tomada por la pandemia” by Musuk Nolte for Ojo Brujo (Spanish) [PDF]
    • “Pictured with their Past: Survivors of Canadas’ ‘Cultural Genocide” Speak Out” by Daniella Zalcman for National Geographic [PDF]
    • “Beijing's Rat Tribe: The Chinese Dream Goes Underground” by Sim Chi Yin for Foreign Affairs [PDF]
    • “Land Grab Universities” by Tristan Ahtone for High Country News [PDF]
    • “America’s Clean Water Crisis Goes Far Beyond Flint. There’s No Relief in Sight” by Matt Black and Justin Worland for TIME Magazine [PDF]
    • “These Three Supertrees Can Protect Us from Climate Collapse” by Eliza Barclay, Umair Irfan and Tristan McConnell for Vox (interactive story viewable on Vox.com here)
    • “At What Cost? For Baltimore’s Poorest Families, the Child Support System Exacts a Heavy Price—and It’s Hurting Whole Communities” by Yvonne Wenger for The Baltimore Sun [PDF]

Objective:

After this lesson, students will be able too...

  • Evaluate how they get their news, what stories they seek, why news is important, and questions they have about how the news is made
  • Define the term “under-reported story,” describe examples of under-reported stories, and analyze why these stories are important
  • Evaluate how underreported stories connect to issues they see in their communities and brainstorm underreported issues in their communities
  • Practice methods for identifying and analyzing underreported stories by evaluating news and conducting their own research.

Warm up:

  1. Brainstorm a definition for the word, “news”. How does your definition compare to the following definitions from the Merriam-Webster dictionary?
  2.  Consider: Which of the following ways do you get most of your news? Newspapers/magazines, TV. Internet/apps, Radio, Other

  3. News outlets publish their news using all the different methods above. Make a list:

    • Which news outlets (newspapers, tv shows, websites, etc.) do you check to get your news? Compare your answers with this list from the Pew Research Center of the most widely read news websites in 2010!

    • What are examples of stories you would see on the news? 

  4. Imagine you met someone today who has not looked at  the news in over a week. Based on what you have heard about in the news over the last week, write your responses to the following on a separate sheet of paper:

    • What are the top three things a person needs to know about what is happening in the world this week? 
    • How did you learn about these issues?
  5. Discuss the following on your own, or in a small group:

    • What stories do you see the most in the news? 
    • How might the stories you chose differ from someone else in your class? Or in your family? Or from someone in another part of the world?
    • What is something that you think is important, but that you don’t see much about in the news?
    • Why do you think news outlets choose to feature some stories more than others?
  6. An under-reported story is a news story that doesn’t get as much attention in the news. Look back to your responses for question 5 and consider the following:

    •  Why do you think news outlets are focusing on these stories, and not others?
    • Why are some news stories receiving less attention? Try to think of at least three reasons 
  7. The Pulitzer Center is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to supporting under-reported stories. The Center supports reporting projects in over 100 news outlets every year on a wide range of topics. Review the video below, which features Pulitzer Center editors and journalists, and compare what they share to your predictions about why some stories receive less attention to their response. After viewing the video, write your response the following on a separate sheet of paper:

  • According to the speakers in the video, what is an under-reported story?
  • How are under-reported news stories different from other news stories? Reference examples from the video in your description.
  • How can you find under-reported stories, in the news and in your own communities?

Introducing the Skill: Finding and Evaluating Under-Reported Stories

If under-reported stories communicate issues that don’t get a lot of attention, how do journalists find these stories in the first place? Where do they look? Who do they talk to? What kinds of questions do they ask themselves to decide if they want to pursue a story? In this lesson you will explore these questions by connecting with members of the editorial team at the Pulitzer Center.

  1. In the video below, Pulitzer Center’s Managing Director Nathalie Applewhite and Executive Editor Marina Walker Guevara describe three ways to find under-reported stories that interest you. Watch the video, and evaluate how journalists use the following strategies to find under-reported stories:
    • Analyze news and question what is missing
    • Talk to people about issues that matter to them
    • Observe the people and places around you, and get curious
  2. After watching the video, write your responses to the following questions on a separate sheet of paper:

  • What questions can you ask yourself while watching the news to start noticing under-reported stories?
  • What is an example of an under-reported story investigated by a Pulitzer Center-supported journalist in response to the novel coronavirus? Why is this story considered under-reported?
  • What questions can you ask someone in your life to identify an under-reported story?
  • What was journalist Daniella Zalcman researching before she learned about the impacts of Canada’s Indian residential school program?
  • What questions can you ask yourself while observing your immediate environment to begin identifying under-reported stories?
  • What did journalist Sim Chi Yin observe in Beijing, and how did that inspire her photography project, “Beijing’s Rat Tribe?”
  • Which story cited in the video would you be most interested in exploring further, and why?
  • Which strategy would you most like to try to begin finding under-reported stories in your community

Read and Analyze: How do you find and analyze under-reported stories?

  1. The articles below were referenced by editors in the video “How to find and analyze under-reported stories.” Select one of the following articles to read
  2. After reading, use the following questions to analyze the story you selected. Write your responses on a separate sheet of paper.

    • What details stood out to you from the story the journalist reported? Use these details to write a 3-5 sentence summary of the story.
    • Why do you think this qualifies as an under-reported story?
    • Why is this story important? What connections can you make between this story, and issues/people/places in your own community?
  3. Optional Reading and Writing Extension: Select at least one of the articles below to analyze. Each article is by a journalist supported by the Pulitzer Center. As you review the article(s), respond to the following questions on a separate sheet of paper

  4. Optional Reading and Writing Extension: Using details from the articles you reviewed, write a short essay that compares and contrasts at least two articles to respond to the following:

  • How do journalists identify under-reported stories?
  • Why are under-reported stories important?

Practice: Find under-reported stories from where you are right now!

Use the exercises below to develop ideas for under-reported stories that you could investigate on your own. Use a separate sheet of paper to document at least one idea for each of the activities below.

  1. Analyze news and question what is missing
    • Review the front page(s) of a newspaper, a homepage of an online news site and an episode of a television news program. As you read/watch, make a list of the stories that received the most coverage. 
    • Pick one issue highlighted on the news, and use the following questions to identify an idea for an under-reported story connected to that issue: What is happening, and why? Who is affected, and why? Who might be affected, but is not represented in these stories? What do these issues look like in my community?

    • Write a 3-5 sentence description of your story idea that answers the following questions:

      • What is the under-reported story you want to investigate?

      • Why do you think this story is important?

      • How would you research this story? Consider the following as you outline your plan: What online sources could you use to learn more? Who could you interview? Who is connected to this issue and how? What places might you visit to see the causes and impacts of this issue for yourself?

  2. Talk to people about issues that matter to them

    • Make a list of people you have seen in the last week. Consider, who do you want to know more about?

    • Pick one or two people who you feel comfortable talking with, and use the following questions to guide your conversation: What issues are important to you, and why?  What issues are impacting the people you know, and how?  

    • Use your interviews to identify an idea for an under-reported story. Write a 3-5 sentence description of your story idea that answers the following questions:

      • What is the under-reported story you want to investigate?

      • Why do you think this story is important?

      • How would you research this story? Consider the following as you outline your plan: What online sources could you use to learn more? Who could you interview? Who is connected to this issue and how? What places might you visit to see the causes and impacts of this issue for yourself?

  3. Observe the people and places around you, and get curious

    • Make a list of the places that you have seen in the past day.

    • Pick one of these places, and use the following questions to come up with an idea for an under-reported story that you could investigate on your own: What doesn’t make sense to you? What do you see that feels unfair or confusing? What do you want to know more about?

    • Use your observations and reflections to come up with an idea for an under-reported story. Write a 3-5 sentence description of your story idea that answers the following questions:

      • How would you research this story? Consider the following as you outline your plan: What online sources could you use to learn more? Who could you interview? Who is connected to this issue and how? What places might you visit to see the causes and impacts of this issue for yourself?

      • Why do you think this story is important?

      • What is the under-reported story you want to investigate?

Extension Activities:

  1. Embark on a reporting project: Select at least one of the under-reported story ideas you identified, and use the following steps to report and share your story:
    • Make a list of questions you have about the topic you selected. Conduct your own research to answer as many questions as you can.
    • Make a list of people you could interview to learn more about your topic.
    • Use your independent research and the responses to your interviews to write an article that shares your research and engages your readers. Not sure how to start? Try this resource from Scholastic.com
  2. Research under-reported stories that interest you: An important step in beginning to identify and analyze under-reported stories is to explore as many stories as you can.

    • Use the following graphic organizer to analyze five under-reported stories supported by the Pulitzer Center [PDF] [DOC]. Try to select stories that interest you, and that were published in different news outlets.
    • After completing the graphic organizer, identify which story most connects to issues facing you and your community. Write a short essay describing how this story connects to under-reported issues in your community. Share your essay with Pulitzer Center by emailing education@pulitzercenter.org
    • Then, use that story you selected to enter one of the following Pulitzer Center writing contests:
      1. Local Letters for Global Change Contest [Deadline: November 2020]

      2. Fighting Words Poetry Contest [Deadline: May 2021]

Educator Notes: 

This lesson is aligned with the following Common Core Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2
Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6
Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9
Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

These instructions are designed with individual and group reflection for students. Students can also explore the lesson independently using the printable PDFs above. This lesson is one of a series of lessons produced by Pulitzer Center staff and journalists on media literacy and reporting skills. For more information on those lessons and/or to connect a Pulitzer Center virtual visit to your classroom, contact education@pulitzercenter.org.

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