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Elizabeth Truesdell
English teacher/journalism adviser
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Lesson Plans

Libel Laws, Freedom of the Press and Journalistic Ethics

News Writing and Copy Editing

Libel Laws, Freedom of the Press and Journalistic Ethics

Elizabeth Truesdell of the Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu.

Elizabeth French Truesdell
English teacher/newspaper adviser
Kamehameha High School
Honolulu, Hawaii

Title: Libel Laws, Freedom of the Press, and Journalistic Ethics

Description of School and Students This unit will be taught to a 10th- through 12th-grade newspaper production class in an urban, private, day and boarding high school of 1,800 students. The class has fewer than 20 English-speaking students of part-Hawaiian ethnicity.

Unit Overview and Rationale

Being in the right, legally and ethically, is critical to producing a reputable newspaper. Each year from one-third to one-half the newspaper staff members are returning; the rest are newcomers. All student journalists should have a basic understanding of libel laws, the difference between public and private figures, the tension between freedom of the press and censorship in school press law, and an appropriate code of ethics that guides their reporting and the publication’s content. Once this conceptual foundation is laid at the beginning of the year, the staff has a solid ideology that will govern its coverage of events and people throughout the year.

Unit Objectives

Through class lecture, discussion, small group activities, Internet research, and Selected readings, students will gain an understanding of:

After reviewing various Codes of Ethics adopted by professional organizations and schools, the students will generate a functional code of ethics for their publication.

Understanding Goals

  • Discuss homework and students’ understanding of scholastic press freedoms and censorship realities in private schools.
  • Generate questions for our principal and Chief Education Officer regarding the school policy on freedom of the press in our student publications. Pursue the possibility of an interview/press conference type meeting with one or both officials to discuss the issues and have students ask their questions. This would provide practice in interviewing school administrators, note taking, and writing a story reporting on the issue.
  • Transition: Brainstorm ways to prevent school administrators from wanting to censor our newspaper. What kinds of reporting and ethical treatment of stories would protect our newspaper while allowing it to be thorough and cover important stories for our school community?
  • Distribute copies of various codes of ethics. Have students review and discuss them in small groups and consider them at home. (http://www.asne.org/index.cfm?id=387)
  • Homework: Students should asterisk elements of the various codes that they believe are particularly important in developing our own publication’s Code of Ethics. Be prepared to discuss choices tomorrow in class. Additionally, students should review The Poynter Institute’s “Guiding Principles for the Journalist” at http://www.poynter.org/dj/tips/ethics/me_gdeho.htm for supplementary ideas regarding journalistic ethics.
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