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The rules of the journalistic road
start with law and ethics

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sprclogoby Stan Zoller, MJE
Once a week I find myself at the local police station.

It’s a routine I have gotten into as part of the coverage I do for my local blog. Every week I check the police reports to see what sort of dastardly things local residents have called the police for.

It runs the gamut from attempted break-ins to settling a dispute over wedding photos.

Yes, there may be eight million stories in the naked city, but they’re not all riveting.

What is riveting in its own way to me is the number of reports where the responding officer notes that the offender was “not aware of the ordinance.” Some of the ordinances are mundane – like the hours you can put your garbage out, while others stipulate what constitutes a dangerous dog

It’s the heavy-weight stuff that rocks suburbia.

However, it seems to be commonplace for some folks to go about their daily business seemingly oblivious to rules and laws that are there for their own protection.

Can you imagine teaching and advising a scholastic journalism program without putting the rules of the road first?

While students are infatuated and seemingly obsessed with online and social media, the essential fundamentals of journalism – including laws and ethics – need to, as “boring” as they may be, need to a dominant part of any education curriculum.

This isn’t breaking news; nor is it to open to debate.

Teaching press laws and ethics is a no-brainer. If you are stuck on how to teach it, you need to go no further than JEA.ORG where you’ll find curricula for a variety of topics including, to no surprise, Law and Ethics. There are extensive three- five- and nine week instructional plans. There’s no stone left unturned.

Where a debate may emerge, however, is not which module to use, but when.

I know some teachers who start their J class with it while others do it later in the first quarter, other teachers who wait until later in the first semester and yes, some who wait until second semester.

The reasons run the gamut. But let’s face it, laws and ethics just don’t have the sex appeal as doing a great spread in the yearbook, posting videos on a web site or sending out tweets.

I have always equated teaching press law and ethics to teaching, of all things, driver’s education. You don’t get behind the wheel until you know the rules of the road.

I know. Boring.

I’d rather have students know press law and ethics at the start of the year so they know the expectations of ethical reporting within the parameters of the law, than start installing the smoke alarm after the fire has started.

But I’d rather have students know press law and ethics at the start of the year so they know the expectations of ethical reporting within the parameters of the law, than start installing the smoke alarm after the fire has started.

The Scholastic Press Law Center and JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission offer a plethora of resources for educators and students to augment JEA’s curriculum. These include not only blogs, but Scholastic Press Rights minutes – one-minute audio tips about press law and ethics – but also sample policies, tips on public access and freedom of information to name a few.

Start your trip at JEASPRC.org and you’ll find the road will be a lot smoother.

And if you should find yourself in a bind, it won’t be because you “were not aware of the ordinance.”

 

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