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Re-examining the student media staff manual

Posted by on Apr 5, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments


Staff manuals provide student journalists with resources and guidance during times of need. Now is the perfect time to reevaluate (and review) your current guidelines — and maybe even policies. These virtual conversations will not only help students understand what to do, but also what they may want to examine for future. 


  • Students will examine their current media staff manual (if no manual exists, students should work to create one).
  • Students will discuss what might need updating or revising. 
  • Students will write and edit the current manual.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grades 11-12 here.)


Basic level — 6 self-paced discussion board and collaborative doc activities

Materials / resources

Your current staff manual

JEA SPRC resource on staff manual

Rubric for student work

Way for students to collaborate online

Discussion board availability

Computer access

Annotation link for guideline example

Links for Activity 2

Forum status of student media

Prior review v. prior restraint

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

Student media policy may be the most important decision you make

Index of SPRC’s Quick Tips that will be beneficial for talking points for final activity.

Lesson step-by-step

Activity 1 — Mission statement discussion 

Teacher should upload the media mission statement found in the current staff manual in a discussion board. (If one doesn’t exist, students should work together to create one.) Teacher will then post the current mission statement of the student media. Ask students what they think might need to be altered.

Activity 2 — Mission statement part two 

When students have discussed, teacher could post a sample mission statement such as the one on the SPRC site:  

_____________ (school name) student media provide complete and accurate coverage, journalistically responsible, ethically gathered, edited and reported. Student-determined expression promotes democratic citizenship through public engagement diverse in both ideas and representation.

Ask students “what are the similarities and differences between the student media mission statement and the one posted”? What should the current mission statement be? Ask students to recraft as necessary. This could be done on a shared document if that is easier. 

Activity 3 — Policy statement 

Teacher should upload the current either board or student media level policy statement. Again through a discussion board, ask students to discuss what the strengths and weaknesses of this policy may be. 

Activity 4 — Policy statement comparative

Have the students compare the student media policy with what may be found at SPRC as well as look at the Quick Tips listed in the Resources above. Again, ask students to suggest changes to the current policy.

Activity 5 — Student choice

Students should brainstorm areas using a discussion board in which they might want to have ethical guidelines. Let them know that a great place to start is to think through any issues they had during the year. For example, what do you do when someone requests prior review of an article? Takedown request? Who can place an ad? They could also look to the current list in the manual for ideas. 

Teacher should form groups prior to Activity 6

Activity 6 — Group work (this step may be repeated if needed)

Ask students to post the current guideline and then examine its language while comparing it to the current language on SPRC. They should not only reexamine, but recraft as necessary using a shared document. This time, students should highlight the text and say why they made these choices. This will serve as a rough draft and starting point for the finalization of the manual.  

Guideline example (see annotation here):


Because student media is consumed by readers under the age of 18, we will not cover content that might be identified by our community as not adhering to common moral standards. The adviser will make the final decision in all cases.

SPRC sample:

Final content decisions and responsibility shall remain with the student editorial board. Student media will not avoid publishing a story solely on the basis of possible dissent or controversy.


The student media editorial board of (high school name here) will make all final decisions of content without prior review and restraint.

The board will not back away from covering a story because of possible controversy or arguments of readers. The goal is to provide the truth to an issue and robustly cover the students and staff of the school.  


Teacher or editor could compile all the content suggested and rewritten by the students. Using a collaborative document, the teacher should set the share setting to “anyone with the link can comment.” Ask students to comment on one another’s work and ideas. Then, the editorial board could meet virtually to rework and rewrite as needed.

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Introducing a staff manual package to build
a foundation for journalistic responsibility

Posted by on Oct 25, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 1 comment


Mission, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and public forum
strengthen the classic media staff manual

Four concepts drive the creation of journalistic approaches: mission statement, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and staff manual process. Together, the four comprise a package of complementary principles we call the Foundation of Journalism, often known as a staff manual. Through our discussions, lessons and models, we hope to demonstrate the essential rationale for adding strength them into the Legal and Ethical section of the staff manual.

These principles represent the key pillars of standards-based journalism and are the products of perhaps the most important journalistic decisions the student staff can make. Together, the concepts enhance the strengthen the process and product, the decision-making and critical thinking that can characterize student media.

This first section provides information and resources on how and why the four parts of  the manual work together, and is below. All five pieces, introduction, mission, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and staff manual, are designed to interact and show and why each develop and apply to your school’s student media.


SPRC legal and ethical staff manual

What is it/definition: The SPRC’s manual package contains information and resources that create a framework for a school’s journalism publication and learning program – Mission Statements, Editorial Policy, Ethical Guidelines and Staff Manual process. It also includes resources on forums for student expression.

 Visual to accompany the Law-ethics package. This material has been used at JEA.NSPA conventions to introduce the entire sequence of materials.

Important items of note: JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee presents ideas, models and language, but does not recommend cut and paste of precise wording or inclusion of entire content or model. We also stress the concept that policy and ethical guidelines are different and should not be noted in the same section in the manual.


Guideline: Each student media should have basic statements, a Foundation or cornerstone, compromised of a mission statement, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and staff manual that protects student free expression, explains why that is essential and shows how each element depends on the others. This Foundation should be based on journalistic standards, best practices and encompass journalism’s social responsibility.


Student best practice: Students should make all final decisions of content, without prior review by school officials and be designated public forums for student expression. All pieces should support that premise.


Quick Tips:

Student media policy may be the most important decision you make: Students should understand they can and should adopt best legal and ethical practices for their student media, both at the board and school level.

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 contentand 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.


SPRC blog commentary

Five activities to consider before next fall: Looking for end-of-year activities to rebuild or revisit how your student media operate, the range and effectiveness of content, no matter the platform?

Consider this process at the end of the year or during summer staff retreats, to help students strengthen your program’s foundation.


SPRC blog reporting

The Foundations of Journalism: Policy, procedure, guidelines: These concepts represent best practices. We do not urge copying the entirety of anyone’s policy, including ours. Instead, we urge students and adviser to mold a sound policy based on their school’s needs and identity. Modify our elements in your words.Based on these concepts: no censorship/restraint by any school official, no prior review by any school official, designation of all student media as public forums for student expression and that students make all final content decisions.   

Student voices, student choice:By adopting policiesand guidelinesthat are student voice friendly in policy and practice, schools can further embrace empowerment of student voices and authority.

Building foundations for great journalism:It is critically important to build a solid foundation in law and ethics before sending students out for that first assignment.

Handout: Foundations topic draft form:A planning form for developing ethical and staff manual guidelines.

Building student media foundations with policy and ethics: This project is a two-fold effort to combine policy, ethics and staff manual procedure into an integrated process where policy sets the stage for ethical guidelines and ethical guidelines shape staff manual procedure. It is designed to tie directly to The Foundations of Journalism: Policy, procedure, guidelines.

Build a strong foundation by locking in pieces of the puzzle called  journalism:

Preparing student media for a new year often begins with design — and theme-planning. For a good number this includes summer workshops for training in reporting platforms, visual reporting approaches and the latest in apps and across-platform developments. We hope such training also includes the basics of law and ethics. Often, we fear it does not.

Lesson to help students formulate policies, guidelines and procedures:In this lesson, Students will analyze current policies and write guidelines and procedures. Students will then analyze the others’ classwork and provide feedback. Students will be able to rewrite their contribution after the feedback is given. Students will also audit the publication’s diversity.



JEA law/ethics curriculum:

Ethical Guidelines and Procedure Statements: Creating the Foundation  In this lesson, students will analyze current policies and write guidelines and procedures. Students will then analyze the others’ classwork and provide feedback. Students will be able to rewrite their contribution after the feedback is given. Students will also audit the publication’s diversity.


With Freedom of the Press Comes Great Responsibility  Students should have a basic understanding of their responsibility to provide fair, balanced and accurate content that is complete and coherent. From studying examples of content and role-playing on situations that they may have to address, this lesson prepares students for the kinds of decisions they will make with their own publication.


Understanding Journalistic Forum Status  The 1988Hazelwood v KuhlmeierU.S. Supreme Court decision created a need for students and advisers to understand what forum status means for all scholastic media. This lesson defines the three types of forums and outlines what each could mean for students. The lesson also enables student journalists to choose which forum best meets their needs and take steps to create that forum.


Creating a Mission Statement for Student Media  Everyone has seen mission statements that contain “educate and entertain” as key goals for scholastic media. The purpose of this lesson is to create mission statements that go beyond generic wording. Instead, mission statements should help establish who student journalists are, their role, and their purpose. Establishing this framework will also shape audience understanding about media roles, purposes and identity, including the social responsibility role that even student journalists must uphold.



Board media policies:This clip explains why a shorter, simple board-level student media policy is recommended and outlines three clear points such policies should establish.

A combined editorial policy: As more student media programs take a comprehensive approach to produce all types of scholastic media under one staff structure, it only makes sense to combine separate publications policies into one.



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

Sitemap of inclusive materials, go here

How to Use the List of Ethics and Staff manuals, gohere.


Crafting the Argument Against Prior Review and Censorship

Building the case against prior review and restraint: talking points to help start a discussion between advisers and administrators







Related Content: Mission statements |  Editorial policy |  Ethical Guidelines  | Staff manual

| Prior review | Prior review | Censorship |

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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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The foundations of journalism:
policies, ethics and staff manuals

Posted by on Apr 29, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Featured, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Mouse over the visual and click on numbers 1-4 for content.

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New policy, ethics and staff manual elements posted

Posted by on Apr 9, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


sprclogoJust to give everyone a heads-up, the SPRC just published its Foundations of Journalism package to offer a new look at how editorial policies interact with ethical guidelines and staff manual procedures.

The package is available at   and includes   separate models for possible board- and media-level policies, including rationale for each. The ethics and staff manual examples work together so you can see models for ethical guidelines and staff manual statements or procedures to carry them out.
The package also has a sitemap with direct links to individual articles and files at  .
Please take a look at the whole package, including rationale of why we’re taking a new look at policy and ethics interaction. Each model ethics statement and staff manual process includes resource links. A general resources list is available for the whole project.
John Bowen
Director, JEA SPRC
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