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A checklist for ethical news values

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by Marina Hendricks

As I wrote this, Hurricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast. A week remains until the election in which U.S. voters will choose their leader for the next four years. The Detroit Tigers played the San Francisco Giants for a World Series title. And I’m willing to bet there’s something interesting happening in your community.

News events, whether they are national or local in scope, offer excellent opportunities to help students assess their own journalistic practices and think about how to improve their work.

With the following list from “Media Ethics: Issues and Cases” by Philip Patterson and Lee Wilkins, students can evaluate coverage of a major news story. Each point on the checklist also should be considered in light of what students can apply to their own reporting, writing and editing.

Ethical News Values
• Accuracy – Are the facts correct? Has the reporter used the right words? What are some examples of right and wrong words? Is information in the proper context? What biases could the reporter have brought to the story?
• Confirmation – Does the story hold up inside and outside the newsroom? Are there holes?
• Tenacity – Has the reporter gone to extra effort on the story, or merely followed the pack? Is there depth to the story? If so, what are some examples from the story that point to depth?
• Dignity – Has the reporter treated the subject of the story with respect? Have the others involved with publication of the story – photographers, editors, videographers, designers, ad sales representatives – done so?
• Reciprocity – Do you think the reporter has taken a “do unto others” approach with respect to the subject of the story? Does the story pander to the lowest common denominator? What is important in this story from the audience’s perspective? Has the reporter addressed that?
• Sufficiency – Has the reporter had adequate resources to cover this story? Why or why not?
• Equity – Have all sources and subjects been treated in the same manner? Have all sides of the story been told? What are they?
• Community – How does the community benefit from this story? How does the media outlet benefit?
• Diversity – Are all parts of the audience represented in this story? If not, who is missing?

Regular study of news coverage by other journalists helps students learn what works, what doesn’t and what they themselves can do better – all in the safe context of analyzing someone else’s stories.

And there’s no need to wait for a huge storm, four-year election or big game, because news happens all the time.

About this series of posts

*Editor’s note: This is the fifth of a series of rotating columns by commission members to appear Wednesdays. Megan Fromm will present best practices for teaching ethics; Jeff Kocur will discuss common problems student leaders and advisers face and how to overcome them; Candace Perkins Bowen will examine journalistic ties to teaching issues, like Common Core standards; Mark Goodman will write about current events and impact on law as it affects scholastic media and Marina Hendricks will address ethical issues and online journalism.

 

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