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Suzanne Walter
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Editorial Writing

Exploring Ethical Issues

Exploring Ethical Issues

Suzanne Walter of Eldorado High School in Albuquerque, N.M.

Suzanne Walter
Eldorado High School
Albuquerque, N.M.

Title: Unit Plan — Exploring Ethical Issues

Ethics is an area that has sparked my students’ interest, but I do not feel like I have done a very good job relating ethics it to real-life student issues. Students like to hear the “stories” of possible ethics violations by professionals, and they like to debate what professionals should have done in real-life situations. I want to take these discussions one step further for my students by having them generate, and thus take ownership of, their own code of ethics.

Generative Topic

Ethics for Young Journalists

Generative Objects

  • Notes on ethics and examples of ethical decisions professionals have made
  • Class generated code of ethics

Understanding Goals

  • Essential Question
    • What ethical issues do young journalists need to consider?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • If journalists abide by the law, will they always be in the “right”?
    • What is ethics?
    • What is a code of ethics and do we need one?
    • Are there ever any reasons for violating a code of ethics you have agreed to live by?

Action Plan

Day 1

  • Students find a definition for ethics and discuss as a class how they think ethics might pertain to journalists.
  • Teacher gives a few examples of ethical issues journalists have faced. (Ideas taken from readings listed below.)
  • Students spend the rest of class in small groups reacting to a list of “Ethical Scenarios” adapted from Fedler’s Reporting for the Print Media pages 500-507.

Day 2

  • Teacher begins discussion by giving more examples of ethical issues journalists have faced – allowing time for class reaction. (Ideas and visuals adapted from Fedler’s Reporting for the Print Media pages 466-492.)
  • Students spend the rest of class in small groups reacting to a list of “Ethical Scenarios” adapted from Fedler’s Reporting for the Print Media pages 500-507.

Day 3-4

  • In new small groups, students develop an ethical code for a school paper. (These students have never been exposed to our school paper’s code of ethics).
  • Students compile a complete class list by merging their group lists and debating any items that seem redundant, unnecessary, poorly worded, or too restrictive.
  • Students compare the class list to the current ethics code for the school’s newspaper.
  • Do they believe any items need to be added or deleted? Class discussion.

Day 5 – Assessment

  • Students receive a copy of a code of ethics from a local paper and are given one class period to write a reaction to it covering the following points:
  • Which items are similar to those we developed in class?
  • What items from our class list are not covered by this code of ethics? Why do you think they were left out?
  • What items are on this list that were not on our class list? Why do you think we didn’t include them on our list? Should we have? Why/why not?
  • Any additional reaction to the local paper’s code of ethics?

Overhead for logic introduction


The process of drawing a conclusion from one or more premises

Premises are neither logical or illogical – they may however be true or untrue

  • Premise 1: Bill Clinton supports gun-control legislation.
  • Premise 2: All fascist regimes of the 20th century have passed gun-control legislation.
  • Conclusion: Bill Clinton is a fascist.

The premises may both be true — but the argument is flawed.

Here is the same faulty logic applied to a different set of premises

  • Premise 1: All Catholics believe in God.
  • Premise 2: All Muslims believe in God.
  • Conclusion: All Catholics are Muslims.

These are examples of a logical fallacy called

Undistributed Middle

  • The middle, Believe in God is not limited to All Catholics or All Muslims by either of our premises
  • Thus the middle, Belief in God, is not limited to either group and our logic — or inference — is faulty.

Web sites for exploring logical fallacies

  • http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/
  • http://www.intrepidsoftware.com/fallacy/welcome.htm

Example listing of Logical Fallacies

Your job is to learn about these types of logical fallacies and create at ten- item quiz and answer key. Each item on the quiz should give an example of one of these logical fallacies and ask the quiz taker to identify the fallacy. In your answer key, include an explanation for the answer you believe is correct.

  • Undistributed middle
  • Illicit major
  • Illicit minor
  • Slippery slope
  • False analogy
  • Begging the question
  • Denying the antecedent
  • Affirming the consequent
  • Ignoring a common cause
  • Confusing cause and effect
  • False dichotomy
  • Special pleading
  • Biased sample
  • Appeal to authority (argumentum ad veredcundiam)
  • Appeal to popular belief (argumentum ad populum)
  • Straw man
  • Appeal to fear
  • Appeal to ridicule
  • Appeal to pity, emotion
  • Guilt by association
  • Appeal to motivation
  • Poisoning the well, argument from intimidation
  • Tu Quoque, You Too
  • Appeal to hate
  • Failure to Elucidate

Recommended Reading

  • "Beyond Argument: A Handbook for Editorial Writers," Edited by Maura Casey and Michael Zuzel, 2001, National Conference of Editorial Writers. (A link to order the book is here.)
  • Downes, Stephen. "Stephen’s Guide to the Logical Fallacies." http://www.datanation.com/fallacies/index.htm
  • Editorial Writing. http://www.jteacher.com/PDF/editorials.pdf
  • The Nizcor Project: Fallacies. http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/
  • Brooks, Brian, George Kennedy, Daryl Moen, Don Ranly. "News Reporting and Writing, 6th Ed." School of Journalism, University of Missouri at Columbia. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999.
  • Fedler, Fred. "Reporting for the Print Media, fifth edition." Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1993.
  • Fuller, Jack. "News Values: Ideas for an Information Age." Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
  • Goldstein, Norm, ed. "The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law with Internet Guide and Glossary." New York: The Associated Press, 2000.
  • Goodman, Mark, and Hiestand, Mike. "The Starting Point: Young Journalists and the Law." Student Press Law Center, sponsored by the Newspaper Association of America Foundation, 1999.
  • "The Newsroom Brain: A Working Guide to Journalism Decisions." Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University, Editorial Leadership Initiative of NMC, 1998.

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