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Unnamed sources should be used sparingly …

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

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… and only after students evaluate how the value of the information balances with the problems such sources create

Journalism is based on truth and accuracy. Using unnamed sources risks both of those standards. For that reason, students should seek sources willing to speak on the record. Unnamed sources should be used sparingly and only after students evaluate how the value of the information balances with the problems such sources create. 

Occasionally, a source’s physical or mental health may be jeopardized by information on the record. In this instance, journalists should take every precaution to minimize harm to the source.

Staff manual process

Editors should train staff members on how to conduct proper interviews on the record. Poor interview techniques could lead to confusion between potential sources and reporters. Staff members should always identify themselves when working on behalf of student media. Reporters should be advised to use anonymous sources rarely. Before agreeing to do so, they should ask the following questions:

  • Why does the source want to remain unnamed? Is it possible he/she would be in danger if his/her name is revealed? What other problems could occur?
  • How important is the story? How important is the information provided, and is there an alternative means for gathering it? Using an unnamed source hurts credibility and could risk legal action.
  • Students should consider what might happen if a court demands to know the source’s name. Most professional journalists would not reveal the name, and many have gone to jail instead of doing so. Would student reporters be willing to go that far? What legal protections exist in your state for protection of sources?
  • What might the source have to gain from getting this information published? Some sources who want to be off the record have ulterior motives that could harm someone else.
  • If students decide the information is vital and the source has a solid reason for remaining unnamed, who, besides the reporter, should know the identity? Many staffs decide the editor should know to assess the credibility of the source, but not the adviser in order to protect the adviser’s professional position at the school.

Resources

Legal protections for journalists’ sources and informationby the Student Press Law Center

Position paper on anonymity of sources, Society of Professional Journalists

Use of unnamed sources, National Public Radio

Lesson: Exploring the Issues with Anonymous Sources, Journalism Education Association

 

 

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Unnamed sources

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

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sprclogoFoundations_mainEthical guidelines
Journalism is based on truth and accuracy. Using unnamed sources risks both of those standards. For that reason, students should seek sources willing to speak on the record. Unnamed sources should be used sparingly and only after students evaluate how the need for the information balances with the problems such sources create.

Occasionally, a source’s physical or mental health may be jeopardized by information on the record. In this instance, journalists should take every precaution to minimize harm to the source.

Staff manual process
Editors should train staff members on how to conduct proper interviews on the record. Poor interview techniques could lead to confusion between potential sources and reporters. Staff members should always identify themselves when working on behalf of student media. Reporters should be advised to use anonymous sources rarely.

Before agreeing to do so, they should ask the following questions:
• Why does the source want to remain unnamed? Is it possible he/she would be in danger if his/her name is revealed? What other problems could occur?
• How important is the story? How important is the information provided, and is there an alternative means for gathering it? Using an unnamed source hurts credibility and could risk legal action.
• Students should consider what might happen if a court demands to know the source’s name. Most professional journalists would not reveal the name, and many have gone to jail instead of doing so. Would student reporters be willing to go that far? What legal protections exist in your state for protection of sources?
• What might the source have to gain from getting this information published? Some sources who want to be off the record have ulterior motives that could harm someone else.
• If students decide the information is vital and the source has a solid reason for remaining unnamed, who, besides the reporter, should know the identity? Many staffs decide the editor should know to assess the credibility of the source, but not the adviser in order to protect the adviser’s professional position at the school.

Resources
Legal Protections For Journalists’ Sources And Information, Student Press Law Center
Position Paper on Anonymity of Sources, Society of Professional Journalists
Use of Unnamed Sources, National Public Radio
Lesson: Exploring the Issues with Anonymous Sources, Journalism Education Association
Unnamed Sources, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute

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Evaluating the use of unnamed sources

Posted by on Sep 1, 2013 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

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Part of  JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission’s Constitution Day lessons and activity package:

1. Lesson: THE USE OF ANONYMOUS SOURCES

For any journalist, the use of anonymous sources creates a true predicament—one in which the newspaper’s credibility is on the line, and the reporter takes full responsibility for the authenticity and accuracy of whatever the anonymous source says.

This is a difficult and precarious situation to be in, and it is one all student publications should enter knowing the possibilities.

Primary Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7

Secondary Common Core Standard(s) Addressed: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8

21st Century Skills Incorporated: Communication, collaboration critical thinking

Supplies, Technology, Other Materials Needed: Handouts, online resources, computers and recording tools

Length of the Lesson: 125 minutes (3 class periods)

Evaluation tools: Student created products and application

Appropriate for Grades: 9-12

Created by: John Bowen, MJE

Brief description of lesson:

Students will examine the positive and negative potential in the use of anonymous sources, participate in activities examining the roles of anonymous sources and develop policies to guide their future use in local student media.

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Adviser will have to OK anonymous sources,
school board cites journalism standards

Posted by on May 13, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Hazelwood, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

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sprclogoStudent media advisers at Northern Highlands High School in New Jersey must now give prior permission for student journalists to grant anonymity to a source according to a revised policy the board of education adopted April 28.

The criteria an adviser might have to determine, according to an article at NorthJersey.com, consists of “the credibility, motivation and bias” of sources in “accordance with generally accepted journalistic standards.”

The adviser must also know the name, contact information, background and connection to the story. The NorthJersey.com report also noted the adviser, “except as required by law,” could not reveal the identity of an anonymous source to the faculty, the administration or board of education.

While the journalistic standards cited were not defined, the use of unnamed sources can raise ethical questions. Generally, it is the students who raise these questions  and make the decision whether to grant anonymity. Journalism editors granting anonymity under certain circumstances has historical precedent from Watergate to other instances where a source’s identity might need protection.

And, if student media is truly designed to be a learning experience and forum for student expression where students make all decisions of content, that should be students’ decision.

Events that led up to policy changes in student media involved the use of unnamed sources dealing with personnel issues.

Frank LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, quoted in the NorthJersey.com story, said, “The practical result will be banning anonymous sources, particularly in stories reflecting negatively on the school district, since no employee of the school will want to come forward and say that she vouches for the credibility of a source leaking damaging information about her supervisors.”

Standard practice, LoMonte said, would not involve the adviser.

In ethical guidelines the SPRC endorses, students would make the final decisions whether to permit sources to be anonymous.

The SPRC knows of no scholastic media program in which the adviser would make that decision.

Administrators at the school and superintendent levels supported the board decision in comments, NorthJersey.com reported.

“We believe this policy and regulation fully support our school-sponsored publications, that they will continue to be recognized as award-winning models of excellence,” board of education Barbara Garand is quoted

Additional coverage of the sequence of events at Northern Highlands High School:
New Jersey adviser resigns from position after censorship controversy
Formerly censored article published in New Jersey newspaper after school board and principal give OK
New Jersey school board will vote Monday whether to uphold principal’s censorship
After stalling vote, New Jersey high school’s publication policy remains unclear

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Election coverage:

Posted by on Aug 19, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

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Outlining an ethical guide for journalistic responsibility and civic engagement by reporting issues, candidates and making endorsements

Return to Front cover Constitution Day 2020

Description

It’s election season again and people are especially drawn to the major issues separating the nation and the clear-cut national divisions between key candidates. There is little compromise, and some have said democracy’s future is at stake.

This lesson on election coverage moves students through critical-thinking and decision-making processes and prompts students to cover stories that meet their communities’ needs.

By applying reportorial procedures to important coverage, and on a deadline, students build guidelines for real decisions they will make. To learn to meet communities’ needs, the students must become involved in civic engagement with candidates, officials, voters and those outside the system.

Your staff ponders choices they face:
• To report the national race
• To report only on key races and people
• To ignore because it is too controversial
• To endorse candidates and issues.

Beyond the national, other elections can make or break national, regional, state city and local futures:
• local issues like school levies, school board candidates 
• City elections with income taxes and support for hospitals, libraries and more
• State issues as above but also like issues and referendums on constitutional change
• and then the ones that seem to draw the most attention – national level congressional and presidential ones affecting all citizens.

Which election, if any, to report, why to report and how to report?

Objectives
 • Students will, after research and discussion, choose which of the various elections have the most local impact this year for students, local communities and a democratic society.
• Students will investigate Best Practices of reporting elections, from local to national, and to choose the most important to their diverse audiences.
• Students will, as they gather information from their reporting, discuss and decide whether they want to/should endorse, oppose or abstain from opinion coverage in this election.Students will prepare reasons from their gathering and reporting and draft an editorial student media can use to endorse, or not.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2.Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.2.BDevelop the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.

Length

Essentially 5 days

Variables: (Teacher and staff/class will have to tailor lessons to school schedule, location and pandemic status):
• 50 minutes daily
• 60 minutes daily
• 1:5-2hours every other day
• Other

• Remote home learning (students would likely have to, at some point, work in teams of one or more:
• Editors
• Text reporters (3-5)
• Visual reporters (2-3)
• Copy/headline design concepts editor
• All team members work on editing and design

Materials / resources
• Equipment consisting of: Smart phones, audio/video as available, computers for uploading, editing, Internet for interviewing, research, editing, contact and planning

Lesson 1: Should students cover elections this year, which elections and why?

Step 1 — Introduction (30 minutes) Introduce the assignment as a different way to cover elections that could model a new, more student centric, approach. (Teacher and/or medium editor could do so.) While reporting is news-based, it could involve news feature reporting, depth reporting, profiles and alternative story forms.

Choice of forms is up to students and should/could involved multiple form, except one. Do not, for now, include plans for viewpoint or editorials. Focus on leadership through information gathering.

Step 2 – Choices (30 minutes) Teacher or lead students will break the class into teams as noted, and will first discuss pros and cons in learning for the student staff and communities. What values are there in focusing first and primarily on objective coverage? What kind of reporting varieties make sense to show the diverse nature of this particular election. What are advantages and disadvantages of possible story forms? Which might be the most understandable? Which lend themselves to clearly showing issues? Keep a list of the discussions and of the decisions. 

Step 3 (30 minutes) Student team leaders should show reporting groups a list of possible types of elections that could be covered in your area:
• local issues like school levies, school board candidates 
• City elections with income taxes and support for hospitals, libraries and more
• State issues as above but also like issues and referendums on constitutional change
• and then the ones that seem to draw the most attention – national level congressional and presidential ones affecting all citizens.

In team or group discussion, the team leader should lead discussion focus on this type of questions about possible local election  coverage:

• Should student media cover elections as listed above? Yes, no and why?
• Answer-team leaders should look to include educating communities, being leaders in forming views, identifying community values, providing forums for discussion and providing diverse looks at how issues, people might affect students and citizens locally.
• What can we accomplish and aid potential voters?
• Should we endorse non-school candidates and issues?
• Should we endorse school candidates and issues? What arguments make either choice valuable? What is important to know about the issues
• Can students legally endorse or support all types of issues, candidates?
• What are pros and cons of each question and you might raise?
• Others raised by student readers.

During the discussions, keep notes for the final step It is likely each group might duplicate focal points, like focus on national elections.The teacher and team leaders should meet and decide what to do in that case. For example:

• Have decided on coin flips
• Allow groups to negotiate with the others
• Allow groups to do the same level of election coverage but with different focus
• Other

Assessment: Students will write a position statement of no more than 75 words on the process, its value and of the outcome to give to the instructor the next class.

Lesson 2: How should each election selected by the team be covered? 

Step 1 — Introduction (40 minutes) Team leaders will take a vote and then move ahead as team to work on interviewing, researching, story form planning assignment of story angles. It likely would be good to use as many approaches as possible, and as time allows.

Step 2 — Introduction (20 minutes) Team leaders lead discussion. Someone takes notes on the discussion and reasoning for the choices made. 

Assessment: statement on the choices, questions and plans due to instructorot end of class.

Lesson 3: Planning the coverage and building reporting guidelines 

Step 1 — Introduction by team leader (60 minutes) Team leaders will lead team members through the following:
• Each person’s story ideas and suggestions and why audiences would care
• Best platform to publish and why; will that require in terms of time, equipment, number of reporters;
• Who are the best sources? Why?  Are they local and credible? Can you talk with them live? How? Sources? Sidebars? Alternate story forms? Collaboration with other schools? Blends of four types of sources: experts, authorities, Knowledgeable and reactors.
• How will information be gathered?

 How will information like campaign charges and statements be verified? Will yours really Question Authority? Will reporters apply principles of  “skeptical knowing?” What will they do if they find a source running for office is lying knowingly?

Does your staff have ethical guidelines, separate from policy, that provide the framework for procedures like:
• Handling use of unnamed sources
• What to do if sources ask to review How to answer if a school official says student media cannot run political endorsements or edits on school levies?

If so, could this lesson expand to strengthen, through other lessons, how your students practice reporting and leadership? If not, could this lesson be the foundation for creating such Ethical Guidelines-Application process in the Scholastic Press Rights committee’s Quick Tips and Foundation approach to a unified and expanded staff manual?

Assessment would come as another student statement on reactions and questions about  the story and ethical planning in this session.

Lesson 4: Deadlines, types coverages needed, why

Step 1 — Introduction (20 minutes) The team will then set deadlines, checkpoints and decide the story format they think they will use. They would also set team meetings to finish their reporting, based on your media’s current schedules. This process can also change to adjust to changes. If students decide decide quickly, go to Lesson 5.

Lesson 5: Should involve op-ed pieces? Why? 

Step 1 — Introduction (10 minutes) The teacher should return all assessment statements to each student, giving students a chance to look over what they wrote.

Step 2 — Introduction (20 minutes) The teacher will then pose this question: Based on your experiences and planning for election stories, which of the types, including objective reporting or possible use of editorial/viewpoint, would you find most effective in covering an election?

Why? Which do you think various communities might react to that question? Discuss briefly. Should students take stands on school issuse and candidates in opinion pieces? There is no correct answer. What the teacher seeks is the thinking process and supporting of arguments.

Step 3 — Assessment (40 minutes) The teacher will assign students to outline the content of a 125-300 word opinion piece about what position they would take on one of the election stories. 

Some questions to use as guide in your thinking:
• Would they use content from the infogathering and reporting in their opinion statement? How? In their view, would the objective process be more, less or how important to audiences in terms of making an informed decision? 
• Which approach to story coverage, objective or opinion, would, in their view, be most informative for voters? Why?
• What advantage, if any, would subjective presentation have over objective presentation?

The teacher will collect at the end of the session or could make it due the next session if students needed additional time.

Students will continue their election reporting from this point.

Differentiation

This is meant to be a guideline of what the process and outcomes can be. It would be impossible to predict a scenario for every variable. Teachers and students can also best adapt this framework to fit time variables and even the place variables, particularly with a Covid-19 induced variety school schedule possibilities.

Hopefully, the lesson can be a springboard to additional lessons, like on formalizing procedures used in reporting topics similar – and different, in thinking about the power of op-ed pieces, or whether student media should endorse or oppose issues or candidates locally.

Substantial numbers say endorsing public officials and public issues is illegal by public school media because it is a misuse of public funds. Also substantial in numbers, others argue it is not and provide legal guidance from the Internal Revenue Service.

The value if this assignment is in its flexibility, its emphasis on collaboration, planning, critical thinking and time and energy it takes to localize important stories.

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