Controversy is often in the eye of the beholder. The best way to prevent a subject from becoming controversial is to use verifiable information, in context, from reliable sources – truthful, accurate, thorough and complete reporting.
Students should be able to show why they used some information and not other. They should be transparent about why their coverage was important.
Even where prior review exists, student decision-making can demonstrate rigorous training in handling such situations and deflect controversy.
Staff manual process
Students should plan potentially controversial stories so all sides and points of view are addressed and, if appropriate, examination of possible solutions.
Before attempting controversial stories, student journalists should develop a checklist of considerations.
Pre-reporting suggestions could include:
• Can students explain why they want to report on a subject?
• Have students anticipated reaction and are they prepared to handle it?
• Who are the best, most reliable sources on all sides?
• Can students show possible motives a source has for sharing information?
• Can students demonstrate skeptical evaluation of information, no matter the source?
• Is there a process in place to demand credible and verifiable information?
• Have students taken steps to assure information will be in context?
• Do reporters have fact-checking and verification processes in place?
• Will students find local faces for the best impact, most complete story?
• Are student reporters prepared to protect their sources if needed?
• Have student editors coached the story at all points? Have they answered reader questions?
• Have students discussed the role of ethical packaging and presentation of the information?
• Will students report information in the most effective way, taking multiple platforms into account?
• Have student reporters and editors discussed the legal and ethical implications of publishing?
• Do student reporters know where to get legal and ethical advice (and that should not be from administrators who might be sources)?
Handling Controversy, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Practice Sensitivity in Your Reporting, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Sensitive Issues Guide, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Tips for Covering Controversial Subjects, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Reporting Controversy Requires Establishing a Sound Process, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Don’t Be a Fool, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute
Verification Before Publication Prevents Many Issues, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
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