News Goggles: ProPublica investigation

Grades: 7-9, 10-12+

News Goggles annotations and activities offer news literacy takeaways on timely topics. These resources feature examples of actual news coverage, including full news reports, headlines, breaking news alerts or excerpts. 

This News Goggles resource originally appeared in a previous issue of The Sift newsletter for educators, which explores timely examples of misinformation, addresses journalism and press freedom topics and examines social media trends and issues. Read archives of the newsletter and subscribe here.  

Public records often serve as the basis for investigative and watchdog reporting that holds the powerful accountable. Let’s examine how records obtained by ProPublica under public information laws shaped a Sept. 14, 2020, investigation by the nonprofit news organization. This story spotlights concerns about COVID-19 outbreaks in meatpacking plants, focusing on emails that highlight “the meat industry’s influence and access to” government officials. ProPublica’s findings offer an example of the watchdog role journalists play in a democracy.

We’ll take a closer look at the use of records alongside elements of fairness and transparency in the newsgathering process. Grab your news goggles! Let’s go! 

 Featured News Goggles resources: Download our full annotations of the ProPublica report in Microsoft Word or as a PDF. Also, these classroom-ready slides pinpoint the big takeaways for a discussion with students. 

Related: A Washington Post report first published on Sept. 17, 2020, also made use of documents obtained through a public records request. Read the beginning of this story, which focuses on the U.S. Postal Service’s operations during the pandemic. How does this use of public records compare to ProPublica’s investigation? Were the records obtained in the same way?  

Idea: In the United States, teach students about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Then show them how to file a FOIA request for a piece of public information about a topic that affects them or their communities (such as school budgets). For local and state records, try using the letter generator from the Student Press Law Center. For federal FOIA requests, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers some helpful guidance  

Resource: “Democracy’s Watchdog”  (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom). 

Have feedback about this resource? Or an idea for a future News Goggles? Please share it with us at [email protected]. You can also use this guide for a full list of News Goggles from the 2020-21 school year for easy reference. 

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