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Rushworth M. Kidder, founder of the Institute for Global Ethics, highlights an ethical process called the Potter Box in his book, How Good People Make Tough Choices.

This process, first discussed by Ralph B. Potter in 1965, suggests four steps decision-makers should consider before making policy or taking action:
• Consider the situation
• Determine what values are involved
• Examine the relevant principles at stake
• Determine where loyalties lie.

While applying the concept of the Potter Box might not be new, it could aid scholastic media in its decision making before publication or broadcast. Working in concert with Rethinking News values, discussed here Nov. 16, the Potter Box offers students a chance to evaluate principles and values in context with loyalties. Such a process could well preclude administrative or other outside interference.

What, for example, could happen when the principle and value of telling the truth comes into conflict with being loyal to a school or administration that might not see the value of discussing controversial topics like homosexuality or gay marriage.

Kidder says in his book that the Potter Box, while useful as a guide to thinking and focusing decision-making, does not fulfill several other ethical principles such as using the Golden Rule, or Kant’s categorical imperative.

“It allows for a reiteration of ideas through several cycles of discussion,” Kidder writes, “in hopes that a consensus will eventually form around a particular action or policy.”

Such pre-publication discussions could lead to consideration of alternative approaches and outcomes. It might help student media anticipate before they act and plan their approaches to get the most complete, most balanced story, even if the topic is controversial.

And that would be good.

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