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Satire in your publications:
Who is the joke really on?

Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 in Blog, Lessons, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Jeff Kocur


Satire in your publications: Who is the joke really on?


Students think of themselves as smart and funny, but does that mean they can handle satire? Satire opens students up to many legal risks including libel and invasion of privacy. Use this activity to explore some of the pitfalls of using satire in your publications.


  • Students will explore the legal and ethical risks of using satire.
  • Students will identify potential ethical issues in using satire.
  • Students will become familiar with mistakes other school publications have made in publishing satire.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.2 Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1.B Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.


50 minutes

Materials / resources

Case Studies Worksheet

From the Experts Worksheet

SPLC Article on UW-superior

Texas 1984



‘Advisory board’ formed after Ga. student paper runs ‘Modest Proposal’-style satire

Student satire publication lost funding, put on probation after article on sexual harassment

SPLC search results for “high school satire”

From experts:

Digiday highlights why many newspapers don’t do it.

NSPA and Hiestand explanation

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Introduction (5 minutes)

Share a hypothetical satirical headline on your most high profile sport’s losing record.

Ask the students to identify the potential problems that might come with publishing a story like this.

Step 2 — Group assignment and work (40 minutes)

Separate the students into six groups and assign each of them a reading from the list above.

Students will read and complete the attached worksheet for the appropriate reading and report out to the class.

You could also turn this into a slideshow shared on Google docs with your students to fill out and present.

Step 3 — Exit ticket (5 minutes)

Students should answer the following:

What are the legal risks of running a satirical piece in student media?


Students could take this lesson a step further and develop a position of the use of satire. If they decided to use satire, they could also create an ethical statement outlining the ethical position of the students plus how they could handle satire ethical. See model for ethical guidelines, process.

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Satire is hard

Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 in Blog, Lessons, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Jeff Kocur


Satire is hard


Students are funny. Students are smart. But are they smart enough to be funny with satire in a way that advances the journalistic goals of the publication? Can they do it without violating the SPJ ethical guidelines or their own publications’ ethical guidelines? Use this lesson to help students understand purpose of satire as a journalistic tool.


  • Students will explore satire’s purpose in creating a message.
  • Students will explore satire in its application.
  • Students will discuss the mission statements of professional satirists versus their own.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.11-12.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.


50 minutes

Materials / resources

Onion Mission Statement

Behind the scenes at The Onion

Your own mission statement

Understanding Satire resource sheet

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Introductory video and discussion (15 minutes)

(The Understanding Satire resource sheet is to help provide teacher background)

Show the students the short video included which highlights the success of The Onion.

    1. Ask the students to work with pre assigned groups to answer two questions after viewing the video.
      1. What specific conventions of journalism is the Onion News Network critiquing?
      2. What is the journalistic message in the following stories?
        1. The story on the new congress threatening to move if they don’t get a new retractable roof.
        2. The story on daycare being outsourced.
        3. The story on U.S. breath being at all-time worst

Step 2 — Partner work (25 minutes)

Ask the students to read the mission statement for The Onion.

  1. What strikes you about the mission statement for The Onion?
  2.   Compare it to your own mission statement and have the students discuss the ways in which your mission statements vary. The students should come to a conclusion on why they vary so much.

    Step 3 — Exit ticket (10 minutes)

Before students leave, ask them to complete an exit ticket to answer the following:

In what ways is your newspaper’s mission statement incongruent with publishing work like The Onion’s? And what steps would you as an editor take to ensure your mission statement is not violated through the publication of a satirical piece.

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Satire: Easy to confuse when used without context

Posted by on Oct 29, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


sprclogoby Tom Gayda
Aw, satire. So fun and entertaining when done well. How many times have I been taken aback for a second by an Onion headline? More than I care to share! Satire can be very powerful when done with purpose, but satire for the sake of satire often falls flat.

My students are always open to try new things, and I always let the editor make the final decision. A few years ago the newspaper editor suggested a satire page. I voiced a few concerns, but said if you’re going to do this, just make sure the page is clearly labeled as such. The editor did fine: the page was labeled “Satire” and the folio called the paper “NOT The Northern Lights.” Seemed to be good to me.
However, after the second issue we quickly learned people don’t pay much attention to folios. Two stories appeared on the satire page: “Mascot name offensive, changes needed” was a nod to the use of Redskins as a team mascot, this time saying our Panther was a bad choice and that PETA was needed to intervene; the other story, “Like government, school shutdown impending” poked fun at the Obamacare controversy by discussing how school was soon to have full nurse coverage during the school day and how that would cut in to other programs. Entertaining? Yes. Best satire ever? No.
[pullquote]With the paper in print and online, eventually alumni saw the stories and emailed. Now mind you, just a few, but enough to learn a lesson or two. First, not everyone gets satire. Two, you offend your readers when you point out to them the story was satirical and not to be taken seriously. [/pullquote]
With the paper in print and online, eventually alumni saw the stories and emailed. Now mind you, just a few, but enough to learn a lesson or two. First, not everyone gets satire. Two, you offend your readers when you point out to them the story was satirical and not to be taken seriously.
Is satire worth it? Maybe sometimes, but remember: most newspapers don’t include satire, so it is easy for a reader to get confused when what is a typical straightforward paper decides to enter the world of comedy. Perhaps a special publication for satire would be a better way to go.

Model ethical guidelines for satire
Satire can make for entertaining writing, however two major points should be considered when discussing the inclusion of satire: 1: Will readers get “it?” and 2: Even if readers do get “it,” are you walking a fine line with the type of content expected of your publication and that which isn’t necessarily journalistic?

While there may be nothing inherently unethical about including satirical content in a student publication, is that the type of content the publication should be known for?

Consider this: does the nightly news ever take a segment for anchors to report on something that didn’t really happen? The back page of the Washington Post run Onion-like stories? Certainly there is a place for satire, but is the legitimate news source the correct place?

Staff manual process
Discuss the need for policies and information about satire depending on the type of media you are. While satire might be appropriate for a literary magazine or humor magazine, does it have a place in the newspaper or on the website?

• Satire can be an effective tool when writing an opinion piece. Consider limiting satire to the opinion pages, where it is clearly labeled opinion.

  • Satire online can create issues. Consider a former student searching for school news and comes upon a satirical piece that isn’t obviously satirical by just Googling the school name. Is the desire to include satire in a legitimate news source worth the confusion? Is satire journalistic?
  • Some schools produce special edition papers for April Fools Day. Imagine The New York Times doing the same. Hard to do, isn’t it? Why sacrifice the integrity of the paper for fun? Perhaps if satire is so important, the staff should produce a separate humor publication that doesn’t conflict with news. Staffs often think everyone will get the joke, but that’s not always the case. Further, the next time you do try to cover hard-hitting news the readers might think back to how you took everything as a joke the last issue.
  • Spend time discussing what your role as a journalist is. Are you a trained satirical writer? Just as we would advise against horoscopes and advice columns as teens often aren’t qualified to provide such content, how does satire fit in with a serious journalistic program?

Introduction to Satire, JEA  
Avoiding Libel in Satire, JEA 
Ethics and Satire, JEA 
Satire Writing Tips 
How to Start Writing Satire

To find the rest of the Foundations ethical guidelines and more, go here and here.

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Think carefully before publishing April Fools’ Day content

Posted by on Mar 30, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Uncategorized | 0 comments


By Megan Fromm, CJE
JEA Educational Initiatives Director

Let’s get straight to the punch line here: April Fools’ Day editions are a bad idea. Why? Well, the Student Press Law Center’s Frank LoMonte provides solid evidence that many joke publications are never received quite as they are intended.

Instead, student editors and advisers often find themselves defending poorly worded jokes or misinterpreted parodies. When all you have to lose is your credibility as a media outlet, the stakes are too high to take this risk.

Still, many student media staffs love the idea of using satire and parody to break the mold, lighten things up or engage their audience on a different level. So, if your students insist on producing April Fools’ Day content, take some steps to demonstrate best ethical and legal practices along the way. Here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Is the content produced clearly labeled as satire/humor/parody? If a reasonable person could mistake the content for actual news, you’re asking for trouble.
  2. Stay away from comedy or jokes that use violence as a theme. In today’s school climate of zero tolerance, even an obvious joke that includes violence could be grounds to punish a student. As LoMonte writes, “there’s no such thing as a ‘hilarious’ rape joke.”
  3. Consider the message you’re sending readers by publishing April Fools’ Day content. Is your entire publication dedicated to the day, or just a (well-labeled) page? Have you shirked your journalistic responsibility while trying so hard to develop comedic content? Is this really what scholastic journalism is about?
  4. Does your staff thoroughly understand libel law and the implications of defamation?
  5. Finally, encourage student editors to answer simply and honestly whether an April Fools’ Day edition is the hill they want to fight (and potentially die) on. In other words, with all the other battles facing student journalists, do they want to spend their time and effort defending this particular decision?

April Fools’ Day editions are notoriously bad news. In fact, SPLC attorney Mike Hiestand commented in 2006 that there is “a reason why April 2 is often the busiest day of the year for us at the Student Press Law Center.”

So, proceed with caution. Because if you don’t, chances are the joke’s on you.


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April Fools’ negatives outweigh positives,
usually don’t fulfill techniques of satire

Posted by on Feb 21, 2014 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments



Non-credible information? Misleading direct quotes?

Seeking permission to quote from sources or asking them to approve information? SJW-2014

Putting advisers into the position of making content decisions normally left to students?

Is this the nightmare scholastic journalism advisers ultimately fear?

It could just be students preparing for an April Fools’ issue.

Although every major scholastic journalism organization warns students and advisers about the dangers of April Fools’ issues, students still want to do them. In some cases, advisers report such publications are their most popular form of coverage.

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