“Storm Lake” discussion guide on the importance of local journalism

This guide serves as a companion for adult learners and community members viewing the PBS documentary Storm Lake, a film about the struggles of sustaining local journalism and shows what these newsrooms mean to communities and American democracy overall. The guide has three main components: pre-viewing, during viewing and post-viewing activities.

The pre-viewing activities use one or more essential questions to focus on viewers’ engagement with news and their opinions about its relationship to their community and to American democracy. The essential questions are:

  • What is news?
  • What role does news play in your family members’ lives? In your community?
  • Is news important in a democracy? Why or why not?

The during viewing portion includes discussion questions that can be completed whole or in-part, individually, or in small groups. These questions include:

  • Is profit a motivation for the [Cullen] family? Why or why not?
  • Art Cullen: “A pretty good rule is that an Iowa town will be about as strong as its newspaper and its banks. And without strong local journalism to tell a community’s story, the fabric of the place becomes frayed.”
    • a. In your own words, what point is being made in this quote?
    • b. Do you agree? Why or why not?
    • c. How does this quote fit into your definition of news and its role in the community?

The post-viewing activities return to the essential questions raised prior to viewing and seek to extend engagement with local journalism. These options include keeping a news log for a week and evaluating a source (log included in the guide), interviewing family or friends about their news habits, engaging directly with local news organizations on social media or writing a letter or email to an editor with a suggestion for a story.