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Ethics codes are invaluable in student journalism, but not as a guide for punishment

Posted by on Sep 15, 2013 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Gina Catanzarite
There appears to be no disagreement – in our school communities or nationwide – that a journalist’s role is to report accurate, fair and objective news.  Journalism courses at the college level, in high school, and even middle schools teach a variety of research and reporting techniques to address accuracy —but in order to teach concepts such as “fairness” and “objectivity,” journalism lessons must naturally address issues of ethical decision-making.

Members of the student media and their advisers study and often adopt Codes of Ethics developed by professional media societies.  But a distressing trend is emerging in our schools:  Administrators who demand that student journalists or media advisers be punished for perceived breaches of these codes.

My question is this:  How can an ethics code logically be used as a tool for punishment when it is not possible to enforce such a code?

About this post and the author

Information in this blog was adapted from an assignment for the graduate-level course Ethics of Mass Communication at Kent State University, Sept. 2013, and is a guest column to the Scholastic Press Rights Commission. Gina Catanzarite is a television producer, writer, and teacher who has produced documentaries and special projects nationally and locally since 1987. She counts eight Emmy awards, 20 Emmy nominations, and five Telly Awards among her professional honors. Catanzarite has served as an adjunct faculty member at Point Park University in Pittsburgh since 2005, and at Robert Morris University since 2010. She currently is pursuing her Masters for Journalism Educators at Kent State University.
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