Why Does a Free Press Matter?

First Amendment freedoms like speech and press are essential rights.  Self-government is impossible without them.  The Founders saw press freedom as a bulwark of liberty and a means of assuring justice in government.  The First Amendment, protecting the press from interference from the national government was ratified in 1791.   A free press is important during political campaigns.  It is critical that citizens are free to publish their ideas and read the ideas of others in order for self-government to succeed.

Student Handout (PDF)

Teacher Key

Bill of Rights Institute Resources

United States Constitution

United States Bill of Rights

How to Use this Lesson


Brainstorm key issues in the current presidential election. Keep a list on the board as ideas are generated.

For each issue, write at least one question about presidential candidates to determine their approach to the issue. Encourage students to focus their questions on the President’s constitutional role.

If needed, review Article II of the Constitution. For example:

1. What is [candidate’s] approach to foreign policy?

2. What would be the criteria [candidate] would use to appoint Supreme Court justices?

3. What does [candidate] believe should be the federal government’s approach to the economy?

4. How did [candidate] conduct himself when he was a legislator/governor?

Decide on the best questions, and have students write them down in the left-hand column of Handout B: A Free Press and the Candidates.

Note: For this part of the activity, students should all work with the same set of questions.


Assign half the class to one major candidate and the other half to the other major candidate.

Within each half, have students work in pairs to research answers to the questions using only one type of source.

For example, one pair would work to answer the questions using ONLY the candidates’ websites. Another pair would answer them using ONLY blogs, and so on.

Variation: assign left-of center blogs to one pair, and right-of-center blogs to another pair.

After students have had time to do adequate research, reconvene the class.

Read the first question aloud, and have one pair of students who used only the candidate’s website share what they learned.

Ask the remaining students if anyone learned anything else or anything different by using any of the other news media sources.

Have additional pairs share what they learned until all questions and sources have been covered.


Have students imagine they are explaining press freedom to a friend living in another country where independent news is censored and only state-run media is allowed to exist.  They should complete the activity on Handout C: Letter from a Friend.