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


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 |

One Comment

  1. I love this! Great to follow!

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