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Law-ethics manual

Mission, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and public forum
strengthen the classic media staff manual

Four concepts drive the creation of journalistic approaches: mission statement, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and staff manual process. Together, the four comprise a package of complementary principles we call the Foundation of Journalism, often known as a staff manual. Through our discussions, lessons and models, we hope to demonstrate the rationale for adding comprehensive strength into staff manuals.

These principles represent the key pillars of standards-based journalism and are the products of perhaps the most important journalistic decisions the student staff can make. Together, the concepts enhance the strengthen the process and product, the decision-making and critical thinking that can characterize student media.

This first section provides information and resources on how and why the four parts of  the manual, and is below. All five pieces, introduction, mission, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and staff manual, are designed to interact and show and why each develop and apply to your school’s student media.

Here’s where you find each section of the law-ethics manual (mouse over each headline go to resources):

• Introducing a staff manual package to build journalistic responsibility

The SPRC’s manual package contains information and resources that create a framework for a school’s journalism publication and learning program – Mission Statements, Editorial Policy, Ethical Guidelines and Staff Manual process. It also includes resources on forums for student expression.

• Mission sets the path for content, decisions

A mission statement is a concise, philosophical statement of purpose and goals for student media. It establishes the ethical and practical concepts by which the student media should be expected to operate and why students do what they do.

We strongly believe mission statements should be more than “to entertain and educate” as those points do not stress guiding the whys and whats of a mission.

• Editorial policy sets forum status, decision-making standard and more

Designed to provide legal framework for student media, editorial policies come in two forms, school-board level and media-level. In case of conflicts, a school-board policy usually will take precedence. Absent a policy, practice can help determine freedom of expression status. Typical content of an editorial policy can include:

  • Level of freedom of expression
  • Responsibility for student media content
  • Forum status
  • Prior review and restraint
  • References to guiding legal decisions and theories
  • Language about journalistic responsibility, civic engagement and future of democracy

• Choosing the right forum can be a make-or-break decision

Forums come in three types – closed, limited and public/open – and how they are interpreted can make the difference between being censored, reviewed and restrained or being a place of learning citizenship and free expression

• Ethical guidelines suggest best practices for your student media

Ethical guidelines in journalism help guide students to make good decisions and the think critically. Because there is no right or wrong, students become ethically fit by making decisions without review, by examining possible decisions and projecting effects of their decisions. Being ethically fit also means preparing ethical decision making that relies more on “green light” rather than ”red light” process and guidelines.

• Procedures outline mission, policy, ethics to build a forum to cement the package

A good staff manual provides pathways to help students to carry out their roles as journalists. Our model shares four suggested pathways for student media to study and adapt.

Mission statement, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and staff manual  complement each other in a way to show student participants and community members what they can expect.