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Building student media foundations
with policy and ethics

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Help with crafting policies
and ethical guidelines for student media

sprclogoThis project is a two-fold effort to combine policy, ethics and staff manual procedure into an integrated process where policy sets the stage for ethical guidelines and ethical guidelines shape staff manual procedure.

Our interest in developing the project began when we found several instances when a school administrator in a potential censorship situation wanted to enforce — even punish — students for not following ethics statements because policy, ethics and staff manual points were all intermixed in a common document that the school administrator presumed he had the authority to enforce based on his interpretation.

Hence, our work ties the three elements together – principle, process and procedure – but as statements that separately outline the ideas behind what staffs do.

  • This means “principle” is a student media policy. One approved at the board level is best and should be simple and straightforward, acknowledging the media are designated forums of student expression, where students make final content decisions. (See examples following)

Lacking that approval, a similar editorial policy at the publication level is useful, too, because, according to court decisions, operating as a designated public forum in practice is also a good way to protect student free speech rights.

  • The “process” is the ethical guidelines. Unlike laws, ethical situations are right vs. right dilemmas and not right vs. wrong. Ethical guidelines are recommendations and thus cannot be broken as laws can. These guidelines help students decide how they operate on a daily basis, and their application is left in the hands of the students.
  • The “procedure” is the staff manual, the specific actions and processes the staff uses regularly – how letters are handled, what happens when a source wants to be anonymous – all the things that ensure a staff operates in a professional and credible manner. These also are exclusively enforced by the student staff itself.

The idea is not to dictate policy, ethics guidelines or staff manual models but to provide a menu of items student staffs can choose.

For example, five editorial policy models are part of this project, four for board-level policies  and one for a publication-level  editorial policy.

All stress student media should be “designated public forums for student expression where students make all content decisions without prior review by school officials.”

Five editorial policy models are part of this project, four for board-level policies and one for a publication-level editorial policy.

All stress student media should be “designated public forums for student expression where students make all content decisions without prior review by school officials.”

Students and advisers can then add from a separate menu of ethical guidelines and staff manual procedures. Each ethical principle offers staff manual suggestions that stem from its premise.

This separates what must be followed – the board-approved policy – from all the other guidelines, practices and procedures that may change some from year to year and staff to staff. By doing this, staffs can shape their media with roadmaps they have devised.

Resources
Ethics codes are invaluable in student journalism, but not as a guide for punishment, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
• For a sitemap of inclusive materials, go here.
• To go to How to Use the List of Ethics and Staff manuals, go here.
• Go here for a list of General Resources.

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