Students participating in scholastic media should hold themselves to high standards to earn and preserve trust and respect from the audiences they serve. Lapses in judgment affect the staff as well as the credibility of the media they produce. Students should realize that discipline problems or poor choices extend beyond individual consequences.
Staff manual process
Editors should develop guidelines for staff behavior as part of the staff application. Staff members should be required to sign a staff contract to demonstrate their understanding of and commitment to expected student conduct. The contract should specify consequences and/or conditions for removal from staff. Similarly, students should study professional codes of ethics and may consider creating their own.
• All school rules should apply. Staffs should not condone or tolerate drug or alcohol use. Editors should work with the adviser to determine a policy for how to handle infractions in conjunction with or in addition to school-mandated punishment. For example, if a staff member is suspended from school for a drug-related offense, how does this affect the student’s participation on staff?
• If students cannot be trusted in other classes or programs on campus, their work as journalists also will be questioned. Cheating and/or academic dishonesty should not be tolerated. The staff manual and contract should specify consequences for plagiarism, fabrication and other offenses. This may include earning zero credit and being suspended or removed from staff.
• If staff members are unsupervised or have access on campus to areas generally considered off-limits to students, they should conduct themselves in a professional manner. Students should not go places on campus that are not open or accessible to them. It would be unethical to report on events or circumstances that occur in areas where students have gained unauthorized access, although it may lead to discussion or research for future reporting conducted under authorized access.
• Press credentials are intended only for staff members. Students should use their press passes for reporting purposes only and not to gain free admission for personal reasons. Students should not allow unauthorized use of their press passes or provide non-staff access to friends or family members. When students are wearing or using media credentials, their focus should be on reporting for student media and representing the news outlet. During that time, students are not fans, spectators or audience members in the traditional sense; staff members should be aware they are visible and accountable for how they represent themselves and should maintain a professional, objective manner. Similarly, it would be unethical for student journalists to conceal their press credentials or to attend an event in an official reporting capacity without making their intentions known.
• Reporting on a club, event, or team in which students are directly involved is a conflict of interest; even if reporters strive to remain neutral and report objectively, it is unfair to readers. Staff members may lead each other to story ideas or help connect sources, but they should not write about stories to which they are connected.
• Receiving compensation from sources is not ethical. Students should not receive perks or free items such as meals, tickets or merchandise in exchange for writing a news or feature story to promote a group, product or service. If students choose to write a review, their work should be unbiased and should specify if any aspect of the experience was provided free based on their role as student journalists.
• Students should exhibit professionalism at outside events.
• Regular attendance in class and at required staff functions is part of the student media experience. Students who have frequent absences from class create complications for staff production. The staff manual and contract should specify expectations for attending work sessions and any other required functions so students are able to plan their schedules accordingly. Editors should work with the adviser to determine what level of participation is reasonable from all staff members and what, if any, time outside class may be necessary or required. The policy and contract should take into consideration factors such as transportation, health challenges, extracurricular activities and employment in order to achieve a win-win for students to make an informed decision about their participation on a student media staff. The policy and contract also should specify circumstances under which absences or failure to attend expected staff commitments could lead to removal. Students might consider having parents sign the contract as well to show their understanding of their son’s or daughter’s obligations.
• Meeting deadlines is essential to staff success. Students should work with the adviser to determine what course of action to take in the event of missed deadlines, which may include no credit, reduced credit, loss of privileges and/or removal from staff.
• Students should treat other staff members with respect and should work to resolve any conflicts peacefully and respectfully without involving other students. Editors may choose to create a specific conflict resolution policy to serve as neutral mediators when needed. Conflicts from within the program spreading beyond the newsroom hurt the program’s reputation.
• Bullying of any type should not be tolerated.
• Students should strive to maintain a calm and professional demeanor even in situations that may rise to heated or confrontational levels. Especially when reporting in an official capacity at a community event, school board meeting, protest or rally, reporters should not take an adversarial role or become part of the story.
• The following scenarios might be cause for removal or discipline from student media: misuse of school or media program equipment, failure to meet deadlines, plagiarism or fabrication, drug or alcohol use, stealing and inappropriate behavior on a school trip.
Guidelines for Avoiding Conflict of Interest, Radio Television Digital News Association
NPR Ethics Handbook/Independence/Conflict of Interest, National Public Radio
Why Transparency Is Not Enough: The Case of Mr. Mike, National Public Radio
Journalists face conflicts of interest too, Society of Professional Journalists
Avoiding conflicts of interest as a student journalist, Scripps Media
Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, Society of Professional Journalists
Model Code of Ethics for High School Journalists, National Scholastic Press Association
National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics
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