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What should go into an editorial policy?
What should not? QT3

Posted by on Aug 28, 2017 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Editorial policies are the foundations for your journalism program. Often short, these statements address forum status, who makes final decisions of content and prior review.

Think of it this way: a strong policy is prescriptive. It says what students will do. A policy is like a constitution and sets the legal framework for student media.

We strongly discourage the inclusion of ethical guidelines or procedures and process in policy documents because ethics and staff manual procedures are suggestive. That means topics like byline suggestions, font choices and how to handle unnamed sources should not be same document as policy. Topics, procedures and details do not have the same purpose as policy.

These points and other decisions about mission statement, forum status and editorial policy should be part of a Foundations Package that protects journalistically responsible student expression and anchors staff manuals.

 

Question: What should go into an editorial policy? What should not?

Editorial policies are the foundations for your journalism program. Often short, these statements address forum status, who makes final decisions of content and prior review.

We recommend this wording as a basic policy statement: [NAME OF STUDENT MEDIA] are designated public forums for student expression in which students make all final content decisions without prior review from school officials.”

Other models could include more material and wording to explain the value of student decision-making, historical or educational reasoning.

Quick Tips are small tidbits of information designed to address specific legal or ethical concerns advisers and media staffs may have or have raised. These include a possible guideline, stance, rationale and resources for more information. This  is the third in the series

A guideline is a stance on an ethical topic. A guideline is more open to change by student staff to staff.

Beyond that, SPRC suggested models could include editorial guidelines (although we recommend several as ethical process and procedures) like:

  • Role of student media
  • Ownership of student content
  • Handling death
  • Advertising decisions
  • Handling letters/comments
  • Policy consistently applied across all platforms

A procedure is a way to do something. These might include how students answer the phone in the room or how they check out a camera. Procedures are how students carry out the policy and implement ethical guidelines. All are part of the staff manual but are clearly separated from policy so their roles are clearly distinct.

Stance:

Think of it this way: a strong policy is prescriptive. It says what students will do. A policy is like a constitution and sets the legal framework for student media.

We strongly discourage the inclusion of ethical guidelines or procedures and process from policy documents because ethics and staff manual procedures are suggestive. That means topics like byline suggestions, font choices and how to handle unnamed sources should not be same document as policy. Topics, procedures and details do not have the same purpose as policy.

Resources: The foundations of journalism: policies, ethics and staff manuals
JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

Related: These points and other decisions about mission statement, forum status and editorial policy should be part of a Foundations Package  that protects journalistically responsible student expression.

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SPRC adds six new ethics-staff manual models

Posted by on Jul 7, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

sprclogoJEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee added six new ethical-staff manual statements July 7 in connection with its Adviser Institute in Las Vegas. The model guidelines range from understanding ‘no publication’ guidelines to producing video dubs.

All seven  are part of the SPRC’s Foundations package, designed to coordinate student media editorial policies with ethical guidelines and staff manual application.

Links to the package are:
• Foundations package
• Sitemap of all models
Links to the new statements are:
Recording interviews
Creating “Put Up” guidelines
Producing video dubs
Handling user-generated content
Recognizing public spaces
Understanding “no publication” guidelines

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Policy sets standards and staff manuals
ethically carry them out

Posted by on Apr 7, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

sprclogoby John Bowen
It’s 3 p.m. Friday, and the final deadline is in four hours.

At issue is a package covering a controversial subject of growing importance in the community.

The staff is divided. Some want to publish the story because it is controversial, important and will create needed community discussion. Others say there has to be more balance and perspective, with all credible sides represented. Production skids to a halt as the debate heats up.

Larger questions exist:
• What are the publication’s guidelines for handling controversial topics?
• What are the dangers of negative community and administration reaction, even intervention?
• Should anonymous sources be used? How to trust them?

Most helpful to this staff would be a strong board-level policy supporting student expression. Next would be a process-oriented and ethics-based staff manual.

Having editorial guidelines and staff manual, though, does not mean they are right or effective.

In the last year, we have seen:
• Instances where having too much information in a policy can lead to unforeseen consequences, including censorship;
• Instances where wrong wording created inaccurate interpretation and potential intervention from outside the staff;
• Instances where items presented with policy can lead to procedures interpreted as policy.

We now see a need for strong board-level media policies. We see a need for separately sectioned, but linked ethics statements and staff manuals.

That led us to new models for media policies and staff manuals and a project we call Foundations of Journalism Package.

Those instances led to a change in thinking about editorial policies and staff manuals.

We continue to see a need for strong board-level media policies. But we also see a need for separately sectioned, but linked ethics statements and staff manuals.

That leads us to new models for media policies and staff manuals and a project we call Foundations of Journalism Package.

The project has three components: policy, ethical guidelines and staff manuals.

Editorial policies – the principles

Editorial policies, says Mark Goodman, Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University and former executive director of the Student Press Law Center, are like double-edged swords.

“Carefully drafted,” Goodman said, “policies can be used to cut the bonds of censorship. If not carefully worded, however, they can ultimately create more trauma for advisers and students than having no policy at all.”

“If your school has one giving student editors content control,” Goodman said, “that policy can effectively exclude your student media from the limitations of Hazelwood.”

Ethical process       

Ethical principles, rooted in legal principles, set a publication’s ethical compass and create what Rushworth Kidder, founder of the Institute for Global Ethics, called “ethical fitness.”

Right-versus-wrong choices, Kidder said, were matters of law. Ethics involve right-versus-right choices.

“Right versus right, then,” he wrote, “is at the heart of our toughest choices. Right-versus-right teach us depth in shaping our deepest values.”

The ethics portion of the package should be designed to guide decision-making for student media. Guidelines should be presented as “should” statements, not “will” or “must.” An ethical code is not legally enforceable because it represents guidelines, not rules.

Staff manuals

A strong and effective staff manual implements policy principles and ethical guidelines. It is the procedure that stems from these and describes day-to-day actions.

Staff manuals are like working encyclopedias: They provide information as wide as handling sources or as narrow as how to interview children.

Staff manuals change as students or advisers change. Because change only affects the staff, manual procedures should not appear with board policy. Each year, staff members have the opportunity – and obligation – to revisit the staff manual to see it serves their needs and those of their audiences.

A good staff manual creates a road map students can easily apply.

Look for our Foundations of Journalism Package in the upcoming days for our policy-ethics-staff manuals project.

Look for our Foundations of Journalism Package in the upcoming days for our policy-ethics-staff manuals project.

Responsible journalism, truly the cornerstone of democracy, starts at the scholastic media level. We hope our updated policy, ethics and staff manual changes enhance that process.

Over the past year, the SPRC has seen situations where unclear policies, sometimes mixed with staff manual language and ethical guidelines, have created misunderstanding between advisers, students and administrators. We have designed a Journalism Foundations Package to attempt to eliminate those misunderstandings.

Look for its posting using this graphic in the
next several days.

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Separating news from views: Does social media need a new player? Part 3

Posted by on Mar 28, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Determining what communities want and need in social media coverage seems to have generated a new media role: community manager.

According to information in a March 21, 2011, article by Ben LaMothe, Why Newspapers Need Community Managers on the 10000 words blog, the term may offer a way to brand online news coverage.

LaMothe cites the Econsultancy blog for the term and its use as a way to engage the community, set overall strategy and create branding for the media’s products.

Modifying such a role in online scholastic media might serve two essential purposes: differentiating between objective and subjective content and helping establish a “brand” for student online publications. A community manager might develop strategy for reaching and involving the communities and making daily updates: performing the medium’s public relations.

Some schools using the concept of community manager haven’t yet gotten anticipated results.

Meghan Morris, editor-in-chief of The Spoke in Pennsylvania, said her publication has an “operations manager,” but the role has not worked as she would have liked. She said she has found it hard to surrender the role. “In the future, this idea of ‘community manager,'” she said, “would be part of the web director or business manager’s role. Dealing with irate parents, facilitating focus groups or other ombud duties will remain the role of the EIC.”

Ted Noelker, managing editor of multimedia at Francis Howell Central in Missouri, said his publication launched its website and communications editor position at the same time to handle promotional aspects. He, too, said, he ended up doing much of the work of the position. “It is such an open-ended job,” he said. “It’s hard to cover all they need to so without being too narrow or too broad. It’s an important role, one that’s been tougth to fill.

LaMothe called the community manager a “must-have position” for a news organization. “The comments, your Facebook page and your Twitter page are all public-facing, and they deal directly with your readers on a daily basis,” he writes. He also says the position must be separate from the newsroom.

Anaika Miller of Foothill Technology High School in California agreed with Morris and Noelker about issues. “It has just become easier for me to handle public relations,” she said. “This works for our site, but in a professional newspaper, I bet the position could be utilized better if it were somebody’s focus/only job.”

All three referred to the position as one of public relations. Miller said no one at her school solely maintains the job because the workload is too light.

Minnesota adviser Jeff Kocur said the community manager role was similar in his school, with the editor using her Facebook status to push stories direct people to the publication’s site. He said he would consider adding a community manager position to his staff. “This person would be responsible for outreach and public relations in addition to writing stories and doing the exchange papers,” he said. “They would send out twitter feeds and facebook updates to push people to our site and manage online reader surveys. This would be an editor-level position, and they would still write stories.”

These staffs perceive a need for such a position, much as LaMothe and others urge. How the position is utilized, who fills it and what its ultimate role is, however, remain a work in progress.

Historically, a public relations role has been a hard one for scholastic media. Creation of a “community manager” might enable more community involvement as journalism grows in its use of social media. How that position develops and how it is differentiated from news reporting should be an ongoing discussion.

Ideally, a  “community manager” role should be cleanly separated from that of news journalist, including separate sources and posts for public relations and news. To ensure the public understands journalism’s varied roles in a democracy, we must be transparent about what we say and what information from each source means.

Accomplishing that may not be quickly achieved as scholastic journalism increases its use of digital media. Clarifying the role of a “community manager” or similar position is a step toward scholastic journalism’s successful use of social media.

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Incorporating ethical guidelines into social media use: Part 2

Posted by on Mar 25, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

In the first part of this series, Marina Hendricks, a commission member and student in a social role of the media class, talked about how scholastic media might create tools in the growing use of social media. Now, others in the class offer additional comments and suggestions.

This piece will suggest guidelines – and hopefully raise questions – about principles behind such tools in three key areas: information gathering, reporting and promotion, perhaps the most problematic new area of social media use. Overall, students in the class say the legal and ethical principles guiding social media use are the same as traditional, or legacy, media.

Key areas students focused on and their comments:

Information gathering

• Information gathered online should be independently confirmed offline.  Interview sources in person or over the phone whenever possible. Students would verify claims and statements. This includes crowdsourcing.

• Correspondingly, the instantaneous time element makes it more difficult to verify spot news, so be upfront about non-verified info. In fact, don’t run anything on social media students have not verified.

• Specific links (not just click here) should be provided to attribute the source/attribution for any online resources used or indicated.

• Be transparent with the audience as well as sources. Let them know how you contacted people, in what context you gathered the information and how you verified it (or didn’t).

• Student journalists who insist on avoiding social networks are likely to miss good opportunities and great stories. If all your sources came from the Internet, they would skew toward the more affluent and educated. When you interview people digitally, you miss a lot of good information. Journalists must strive for diverse representations of sources in their stories.

• These new tools can generate story ideas, allow readers more interaction with the reporters, and increase the reporter’s ability to find sources and network. These are certainly excellent additions to the tool belt of resources reporters have available to them to do their job.

• Social media will not replace traditional reporting; its primary purpose should be in making initial contact with subjects or verifying quotes and facts after an interview.

Objectivity and credibility in reporting

• When using social networks, nothing can call into question the impartiality of student news judgment.  Student media must never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism. … This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending any person or organization online.

• Ensure informed consent. It’s easy for sources to misunderstand your intentions. It is your responsibility to tell them who you are, what you are doing and where your work will run. Take special consideration with children and other vulnerable people. When contacting children, make sure they connect you with a responsible adult.

• Breaking news posts – all news posts – must be approved by a student editor. No exceptions.

• The student media site will not publish images from social media networking sites.

• Typos, biased language and even possible outright privacy breaches posted by individual reporters, acting without a system of checks and balances, will call into question the professionalism of student media and challenge its credibility.

• If the audience perceives biased or unfair coverage, they will no longer trust the student media as news sources and the capacity for elevating community dialog to issues of importance will be lost.

Promotion of student work

• Professional material (reporting and leadership) should not mix with private or promotional materials.

• It is important and valuable to promote our work through social networks. Student journalists bear most of this burden. But the newsroom as an institution is responsible for some of this work. When promoting your work:

  • Be accurate. It’s easy to sensationalize or oversimplify.
  • Be clear. If you are not a good headline writer, seek some training.
  • Always include a link and make sure the link works.

• Journalists must recognize that everything on their social media has the potential to influence their reputations and by extension newsroom credibility.

  • Don’t post information that could embarrass you or your newsroom, even if you believe your page is private.
  • Use the tools, such as limited profiles and privacy settings, to restrict access to your most private information.
  • Recognize that your actions can be misinterpreted. You may sign up for a group to get story ideas, but people may see you as a fan. State your intentions often, in wall posts and other notifications. When appropriate, tell groups when you are signing up that you are looking for story ideas.
  • Manage your friends and their comments. Delete comments and de-friend people who damage your reputation.
  • Social media could also enhance our outreach to the community. Using tools such as Twitter and Facebook, we can push students to our website by letting them know what stories we have recently posted. We can advertise when we are next distributing our newspaper. We can solicit story ideas, invite letters to the editor, or request feedback while we are in the process of putting our paper together. From a strictly practical standpoint, social media can allow us to let others see the great work we are doing more frequently, and, hopefully, engage them in a more earnest discussion about our role in the school.
  • Social media opens journalism to be a more two-way form of communication.  Reporters can find the people they need and readers can interact with the people their story had an impact on almost immediately.  They may not like everything sources or readers tell them, but at least there is feedback.

Resources used for these points

“Social Media and Young Adults”

Newspaper social media policies: Out of touch

Journalists use of social media

 Using email as a reporting tool

Online journalism ethics: A new frontier

News organizations work to set social media policies

Online journalism guidelines: guidelines from the conference

A tip of the hat to these 10 wonderful students, all journalism educators or commercially working journalists, who helped sort through these and other resources: Andrew Christopulos, Traci Hale Brown, Marina Hendricks, Judy Holman Stringer, Trevor Ivan, Lori King, Kate Klonowski, Jeff Kocur, Dino Orsatti, Chris Waugaman.

What points would you add, subtract or question?

 

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