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What are ethics?

Laws indicate what journalists must do, while ethics indicate what they should do.

Rooted in ethics, responsible and free journalism adheres to applicable laws and operates using professional standards to enhance student media’s reach and impact. Journalism, truly the cornerstone of democracy, starts at the scholastic media level, where students learn the legal and ethical implications of free media that make the United States unique among nations.

 

Guideline for staff manual

Student media should avoid mixing ethics guidelines with staff manual processes. While processes or procedures can include the verbs “will” and “must,” guidelines should be framed with “should” and “could.”

 

Why does our staff need ethics guidelines?

Journalism ethics at center stage, Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism:

Student journalists make ethical decisions daily, whether in advertising, design, information gathering or reporting. Ethical decision-making is essential and ongoing. Keep in mind that ethics are only guidelines. They do not represent standards for punishment or discipline.

Media view very few topics as “taboo.” High school student media should be prepared for worst-case scenarios. Imagine the potential for growth and responsibility when students have journalistic conversations with informed, sincere and open-minded adults before the “taboo” happens.

Differences between law and ethics, Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism:

A working knowledge of ethics can be helpful in reporting sensitive or controversial issues. A staff working its way through a list of questions to make ethical decisions solves problems before they occur. In the process, students generate valuable comments, discussions and considerations.

 

Student best practice

Develop an editorial policy outlining the legal and ethical responsibilities for student journalists. These resources provide context and/or offer potential models for policy development:

Foundations of Journalism: policies, ethics and staff manuals

SPRC model for ethical guidelines, process

JEA Adviser Code of Ethics

NSPA Model Code of Ethics

SPLC Model Guidelines for High School Student Media
SPJ Code of Ethics

Online ethical guidelines for student media

Yearbook ethics guidelines

Visual ethics

 

More SPRC materials:

Quick Tips: 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.

Student media policy may be the most important decision you make

Students should understand while they can and should adopt best legal practices and ethical guidelines for their publication, the school district’s or school board’s media policy (if one exists) could impact the legal and ethical decisions of student editors.

Press Rights Minute: Ethics in Editing News Photos

Using Photoshop or other software to edit a news photo is unethical because it alters the truth.

 

Article: Obstacles and criticism can inspire, by Lindsay Coppens

Good, hard-hitting journalism can make people uncomfortable. It illuminates hardship, gives voice to the voiceless, questions the status quo, and encourages people to find solutions to problems. It can be challenging to secure important interviews for stories that pursue challenging topics. Those who agree to an interview may not want to answer all your questions. Editorials that question and challenge policy, procedures, and those in power may be accused of having a political agenda. However, if you adhere to strong journalistic procedure and ethics, these obstacles and criticisms can, in fact, help your journalism become even stronger.

 

Article: In plain view from public places

Photojournalists and free speech: What can and cannot be photographed continues to fall under question, bringing attention to photojournalists and igniting important First Amendment conversations. As part of other Free Speech Week lessons and activities, teachers may use this opportunity to incorporate key readings and discussion geared toward visual storytellers.

 

Article: A class activity to learn both law and ethics, by Candace Bowen

Not knowing the difference between law and ethics makes it difficult to teach these two concepts effectively. They are separate fields, though they do overlap in theory and practice, and plenty of journalistic situations require us to assess both legal and ethical components.

 

Article: Satire: easy to confuse when used out of context, by Tom Gayda

Is satire worth it? Maybe sometimes, but remember: most newspapers don’t include satire, so it is easy for a reader to get confused when what is a typical straightforward paper decides to enter the world of comedy. Perhaps a special publication for satire would be a better way to go.

 

Article: Lessons in transparency, by George, by Stan Zoller

Student journalists need to not only understand, but practice transparency. It’s not unusual for student journalists to want to take an ‘easy way out’ on a story and maybe use sources or materials that give them path of least resistance. Interviewing friends or colleagues in a club, sport or organization are not unheard of. Policy and procedure manuals should include a statement regarding transparency and any conflict of interest.

Resources: Fake or Fact? Seminar available via archived video

The 13th annual Poynter-Kent State University Media Ethics Workshop focused on fake news. Show your students panel discussions by accessing the archives. A lesson plan for scholastic students, created by Candace Bowen, also is available.

 

Want to know even more? See these links:

JEA statements on prior review (and definition of), photo manipulation, student free expression and more

Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism

Newseum case studies

Ethics resources from The Poynter Institute

The Elements of Journalism, American Press Institute

 

JEA curriculum links:

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Always Mean You Should

Another Way to Examine Ethics: Red Light, Green Light

Making TUFF Decisions

When Journalists Must Navigate Ethical Situations

Exploring the Issues with Anonymous Sources

With Freedom of the Press Comes Great Responsibility

Protest Songs and the First Amendment

The Importance of Dissenting Voices

When Journalists Err Ethically

Ethical Guidelines and Procedure Statements: Creating the Foundation

 

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