*Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of rotating columns by commission members to appear Wednesdays. Megan Fromm will present best practices for teaching ethics; Jeff Kocur will discuss common problems student leaders and advisers face and how to overcome them; Candace Perkins Bowen will examine journalistic ties to Common Core standards; Mark Goodman will write about current events and impact on law as it affects scholastic media and Marina Hendricks will address ethical issues and online journalism.
by Jeff Kocur
When my students told me they wanted to write a story about a transgender student, my first thought was. “Here we go again.”
After last year’s series of controversial topics such as fighting, teen pregnancy, hazing, race, and other issues that raised the ire of my admin, simply because of their topics, I was ready for at least one issue that didn’t push the envelope.
But that isn’t really journalism.
by Kelly Furnas
In honor of Constitution Day, JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission provides these hypothetical ethical dilemmas for you and your staff to discuss and debate. Each answer is then discussed via video by a member of the SPRC once you have completed the quiz.
Constitution Day Lesson Plans for Sept. 17, 2012
The Scholastic Press Rights Commission works to provide information and resources on legal and ethical issues to journalism students, teachers and administrators. SPRC members also work to promote the First Amendment rights of students across the nation. It is a commission of the Journalism Education Association.
Our Constitution Day lesson plans provided here are designed to help students celebrate the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as mandated by Congress. Legislation requires schools to offer lessons on the Constitution and how it affects all Americans. Our lesson plans emphasize the First Amendment and particularly the freedoms of speech and the press. We’ve also included the applicable Common Core standards for most of the lessons.
Last week, NBC officials bore the brunt of an outraged public when the Today Show played a poorly edited 9-1-1 tape from the Trayvon Martin shooting investigation. The tape, some argued, unfairly portrayed Zimmerman as racist. This lesson explores the ethics of proper editing as well as the journalistic mandate that context never be sacrificed for brevity.
Lesson plan by Megan Fromm
Lesson Time: 25-30 minutes
Materials: computer lab/group internet access for research, white board, projection capabilities (or you can make copies of materials for students)
First, discuss the background of the Martin/Zimmerman case. What information do students already know? What “facts” do they need to research and verify?
1. Create a class list on the white board of all the “facts” students believe they know about the case.
2.In groups of 2-3, students should take 5-10 minutes to research and verify or discredit one of the facts.
3. Bring the class back together, and make a list of verified facts on the white board, including the sources where students got the information.
Now, as a class, listen to the NBC version of the 9-1-1 tapes. Here is a link for the audio: (Pause at 10 seconds)
Instruct students to write down any assumptions they might draw about the case from listening to this 911 tape.
Then, play the unabridged 9-1-1 tapes, also found here: (continue playing from 00:10)
Discuss whether the assumptions created from the edited tapes were supported in the original audio. Ask the following:
Did the second segment tell a different story? What was different? Was there more or less context? Why do you think NBC edited the 911 tape the way they did? How many seconds long was the edited version? How long was the original version?
As a class, take a look at some of the reaction to the NBC audio:
For an interesting twitter feed screen-capture with responses:
Now, back in their groups (or as a class if you can project the internet onto a screen), have students search for the original NBC statement of apology, issued by NBC president to Reuters news service.
Can anyone find it? Is it on the Today Show’s homepage?
Can you find it on msnbc.com, NBC’s online news outlet?
What about at nbc.com?
Is it acceptable that the original statement is so hard to find? What do you think this says to readers/viewers?
How prominent should the statement be if the original mistake has gone viral?
Here’s a synopsis of the statement (you can also finish playing the youtube video from earlier, which shows a quote from the apology):
Some further ethical questions to consider:
• Is it ever OK to edit a 9-1-1 tape?
• How should we give readers/viewers/listeners access to the full content?
• What type of information is it OK to cut from audio?
• Do we tell our readers/viewers/listeners that we have edited parts out?
• How do we ensure that an edited slice of audio reflects the factual and contextual information our audience would get if they heard the whole thing?
• What is the appropriate way to correct a mistake of this magnitude?
• If you were the editor in charge, how would you handle this? How would you handle the apology and statement?
Finally, as a class, read the Radio Television News Directors Association Code of Ethics, and highlight and discuss the parts that discuss context and accuracy. Did NBC act ethically according to this guide?
Those looking for guidelines to prepare state groups to pass free expression legislation now have a draft document package to work with.
The Scholastic Press Rights Commission has completed a draft version of its Blueprint for Success: Promoting Scholastic Right Rights Legislation, and makes that information available in time for the JEA/NSPA Seattle convention.
The commission welcomes comments and suggestions before it publishes a final version in the coming months.
The Blueprint can be downloaded here or from a link in the right-hand menu under state legislation on this site.
Several additional legal and ethical sites are also worth noting:
• Back issues of the Student Press Reports. Found at Issuu, this site gives everyone access to information from The SPLC Reports, the Student Press Law Center’s magazine, since it started. Well worth time to just browse or look for information to support local reporting.
• The Panic Button. Found here, The Panic Button links you or your students directly to assistance and information about handling an issue of censorship. Members of the Scholastic Press Rights Commission and 45Words students will respond quickly, offering suggestions and providing information as your students and others plan a strategy to handle censorship.
• The forum map. This map, a project of The Center for Scholastic Journalism, is a list of schools the Center has determined to be open forums for student expression, either by policy or practice. The purpose of the map is to enable journalism programs seeking to become open forums to have models and contacts to assist in the quest.
• Application to be on the forum map. This writable PDF is your way to apply to have your school recognized as an forum by policy or practice.
• Certification map. This map shows requirements for teaching journalism in 49 of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and links to each state’s department of education.