Pages Navigation Menu

Ethics codes are important, should not enable punishments of students or advisers

Share

Lindsay Coppens
The Harbinger adviser
Algonquin Regional High School, Northborough, Mass. 

Adopting a code of ethics can be an excellent way to promote ethical discussion and decision making in a scholastic publication.

There are many ethics codes such as the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics and National Scholastic Press Association Model Code of Ethics for High School Journalists that can be great jumping off points for a publication’s own code of ethics. 

Developing a code of ethics can, in itself, be a great way to foster ethical discussions and to reinvigorate a staff’s purpose. By studying, discussing and debating the relevance and applicability of aspects of various codes of ethics, high school journalists will inevitably reflect on their own practice and potential future concerns. 

Once adopted and made part of the staff manual, ethics codes should be regularly revisited. While ethics codes are guidelines to provide common language and a framework for understanding and evaluating ethical behavior, they are not meant be punitive or even (although this may seem odd) enforceable.

It would be unjust for students or advisers to be punished for not following an ethical code, even one they agree to use as a guide. 

Yes, it’s essential that news reports and commentary be held up to ethical scrutiny, and journalists themselves must keep ethics at the forefront in every stage of the reporting process.

The code of ethics is a reminder to do so. However, journalists often face challenging ethical decisions where both options are in many ways “right,” and it may be impossible in these situations to not be “wrong” from another person’s perspective.

If there is fear of punishment for breaking subjective ethical norms, there is a dire risk to the press’s freedom and independence.

Lindsay Coppens

It also may not be possible to follow all elements of the ethics code concurrently. 

If there is fear of punishment for breaking subjective ethical norms, there is a dire risk to the press’s freedom and independence.

If student journalists were to guide their ethical decisions by asking the question, “Which choice would the administration agree with?” their freedom of expression would be inherently compromised. 

Yes, with freedom comes great responsibility. Any difficult ethical decision and the reporting that follows will be public and the public holds the publication accountable through their criticism, praise and ultimately how much they trust the reporting.

Nothing could have more impact on a journalist or the publication as a whole than the public shame, kick-back and reputational damage that would follow a major ethical misstep. 

For these reasons and for the simple desire to do good work and do right by their readers, publication staffs must take ethics seriously. They should confer with each other and have in depth discussion about questions and concerns. They should bounce ideas off their adviser who can facilitate dialogue and promote ethical questioning. 

Lindsay Coppens

For these reasons and for the simple desire to do good work and do right by their readers, publication staffs must take ethics seriously. They should confer with each other and have in depth discussion about questions and concerns. They should bounce ideas off their adviser who can facilitate dialogue and promote ethical questioning. 

To help facilitate these discussions, scholastic publications should have codes of ethics. They promote reflection and guide conversation.

In cases of “right versus wrong,” ethics codes provide clear reminders of what’s right. But sometimes, when faced with true ethical conundrums, when facing a choice between “right versus right,” in order to follow one aspect of the code another must be broken.

Scholastic journalists must have the freedom and the responsibility to make the choice they believe serves the greater good. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.