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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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Suggestions for student media mission, legal, ethical and procedural language

Posted by on Aug 18, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

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Model Staff Manual: Use Constitution Day as a way to compare your staff policies and guidelines — or use it for students to craft their own — to our sample staff manual.

Originally presented to the 2019 Adviser Institute in New Orleans, this material provides important models that can be adapted of essential mission, legal, ethical and procedural language for student media.

Remember, adapt these guidelines and samples to fit your locality and needs, and:

  • Give credit for ideas you adapt
  • Don’t just copy someone else’s policy, ethical guidelines or statements. Think about what the models say, what they mean to you and your communities. Clearly separate policy from ethical guidelines and procedures that carry out this process of building a foundation
  • Words can mean different ideas to different people. To King George III of England the colonials were terrorists; to Americans, the British army were oppressors and Washington was a hero. Clarify your mission, policy, ethical guidelines and procedures so they have common and precise meanings
  • Ask us questions about using the manual concept for all your media. Integrated, the mission, policy, ethical guidelines and procedures form the foundation of responsible journalism.

Clearly separate policy from ethical guidelines and procedures that carry out this process of building a foundation.

JEA-SPPRC

Sample mission statement:

_____________ (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. 

Sample board policy statement (others are at link as well):

[NAME OF SCHOOL] student media are designated public forums in which students make all decisions of content without prior review by school officials.

Sample editorial policy:

 “[NAME OF STUDENT MEDIA] are designated public forums for student expression in which students make all final content decisions without prior review from school officials.”

Role of student media:

The NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION has been established as a designated public forum for student editors to empower, educate and advocate for their readers as well as for the discussion of issues of concern to their audience. It will not be reviewed or restrained by school officials prior to publication or distribution. Advisers may – and should – coach and discuss content during the writing process. 

Because school officials do not engage in prior review, and the content  of the NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION is determined by and reflects only the views of the student staff and not school officials or the school itself, its student editorial board and responsible student staff members assume complete legal and financial liability for the content of the publication. 

Electronic media (including online, broadcast and podcast media) produced by NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION students are entitled to the same protections – and subjected to the same freedoms and responsibilities – as media produced for print publication. As such they will not be subject to prior review or restraint. Student journalists use print and electronic media to report news and information, to communicate with other students and individuals, to ask questions of and consult with experts and to gather material to meet their newsgathering and research needs. 

NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION and its staff are protected by and bound to the principles of the First Amendment and other protections and limitations afforded by the Constitution and the various laws and court decisions implementing those principles. 

NAME OF PUBLICATIONPRODUCTION will not publish any material determined by student editors or the student editorial board to be unprotected, that is, material that is libelous, obscene, materially disruptive of the school process, an unwarranted invasion of privacy, a violation of copyright or a promotion of products or services unlawful (illegal) as to minors as defined by state or federal law. Definitions and examples for the above instances of unprotected speech can be found in Law of the Student Press published by the Student Press Law Center. 

The staff of the NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION will strive to report all content in a legal, objective, accurate and ethical manner, according to the Canons of Professional Journalism developed by the Society for Professional Journalists. The Canons of Professional Journalism include a code of ethics concerning accuracy, responsibility, integrity, conflict of interest, impartiality, fair play, freedom of the press, independence, sensationalism, personal privacy, obstruction of justice, credibility and advertising. 

The editorial board, which consists of the staff’s student editors, OR HOWEVER THE DECISION IS MADE will determine the content, including all unsigned editorials. The views stated in editorials represent that of a majority of the editorial board. Signed columns or reviews represent only the opinion of the author. NAME OF PUBLICATIONPRODUCTION may accept letters to the editor, guest columns and news releases from students, faculty, administrators, community residents and the general public. 

Content decisions:

Final content decisions and journalistic responsibility shall remain with the student editorial board. NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION will not avoid publishing a story solely on the basis of possible dissent or controversy.

The adviser will not act as a censor or determine the content of the paper. The adviser will offer advice and instruction, following the Code of Ethics for Advisers established by the Journalism Education Association as well as the Canons of Professional Journalism.

JEA Adviser Code of Ethics, Role of the adviser

Role of the adviser

The adviser will not act as a censor or determine the content of the paper. The adviser will offer advice and instruction, following the Code of Ethics for Advisers established by the Journalism Education Association as well as the Canons of Professional Journalism. School officials shall not fire or otherwise discipline advisers for content in student media that is determined and published by the student staff. The student editor and staff who want appropriate outside legal advice regarding proposed content – should seek attorneys knowledgeable in media law such as those of the Student Press Law Center.

Ethical guidelines

Letters to the editor (if accepted by staff):

We ask that letters to the editor, guest columns or other submissions be 300 words or less and contain the author’s name, address and signature. All submissions will be verified. 

The NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION editorial board reserves the right to withhold a letter or column or other submission and return it for revision if it contains unprotected speech or grammatical errors that could hamper its meaning. Deadlines for letters and columns will be determined by each year’s student staff, allowing sufficient time for verification of authorship prior to publication. 

Corrections:

Staff members will strive to correct errors prior to publication; however, if the editorial board determines a significant error is printed, the editorial board will determine the manner and timeliness of a correction. 

Advertising:

The NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION editorial board reserves the right to accept or reject any ad in accordance with its advertising policy. Electronic manipulations changing the essential truth of the photo or illustration will be clearly labeled if used. The duly appointed editor or co-editors shall interpret and enforce this editorial policy. 

Ownership of student work:

Absent a written agreement indicating otherwise, student journalists own the copyright to the works they create. Each media outlet should ensure it has clear policies in place for staff members and the publication that spell out ownership and the right of the publication to use student work.

Controversial coverage:

Final content decisions and responsibility shall remain with the student editorial board. NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION will not avoid publishing a story solely on the basis of possible dissent or controversy. 

Prior Review:

Sources do not have the right to review materials prior to publication. Allowing sources to preview content at any stage of production raises serious ethical and journalistic practice questions. Reporters, following media guidelines or editor directions, may read back quotes that are either difficult to understand, unclear or may need further explanation.

Take down demands:

SCHOOL NAME student media is a digital news source, but it is still part of the historical record. STUDENT NEWS MEDIA NAME’S primary purpose is to publish the truth, as best we can determine it, and be an accurate record of events and issues from students’ perspectives. Writers and editors use the 11 “Put Up” steps before publication to ensure the validity, newsworthiness and ethics of each article. For these reasons, the editorial board will not take down or edit past articles except in extraordinary circumstances.

If someone requests a takedown, the board may consider the following resourcefor questions and actions.

Regardless of the outcome, the Editor-in-Chief will respond in writing to the request explaining the board’s action(s) and rationale for the final decision.

Unnamed sources:

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 studentsevaluate 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.

Obituary:

In the event of the death of a student or staff member, a standard, obituary-type recognition will commemorate the deceased in the newspaper and online news site. A maximum one-fourth page feature, or similar length for each obituary, should be written by a student media staff member and placed on the website within 24 hours and in the newspaper at the bottom of page one.

For the yearbook, if the fatality happens prior to final deadline, the staff might include feature content as the editors deem appropriate. For those unofficially affiliated with the district, the editor(s)-in-chief should determine appropriate coverage, but should not include an official obituary.

For more information

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