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It’s a Question of Ethics

Elly Schleifer of Gorton High School in Yonkers, N.Y.

Elly Schleifer
Gorton High School
Yonkers, NY

Title: It’s a Question of Ethics unit

Overview & Rationale:

In this unit students will begin by exploring what acting ethically means. They will learn the importance of asking questions when faced with an ethical dilemma. Students will practice making decisions using real-life and school situations. In addition, students will be introduced to student press law through the Hazelwood case. Censorship issues will be considered as students create their own code of ethics for our student newspaper.

Goals for Understanding:

  • What are ethics?
  • How does ethics apply to the news media?
  • Why is it important to consider ethics when producing a newspaper?
  • What types of questions should you consider when faced with an ethical dilemma?
  • What types of ethical issues could a student journalist encounter?
  • What do students need to know about student press law?
  • Is censorship an ethical dilemma?
  • What is a code of ethics?
  • Who should be responsible for developing a code of ethics?
  • Why should a student publication have an ethics policy?

Activities

Morality, Ethics, & Responsibility Day 1:

  • Motivational Activity: Consider the title of today’s class: Morality, Ethics, & Responsibility. First, think about each word and what it means to you. Write a definition for each. Next, look over your definitions. Explain any connections between the word(s). Finally, tell how these terms apply to media/news/journalism.
  • Partner share of definitions and connections followed by class discussion. Questions to consider:
    • Is there a difference between morals and ethics? Explain.
    • How do ethics apply to journalism? o Group Activity (3-4 students per group):
    • Why is it important to consider ethics when producing a newspaper?
    • What types of ethical issues could a school newspaper face?
  • Groups will be given an ethical scenario to read and discuss. (Source: The Newsroom Brain)
  • Each group will complete handout To Run or Not to Run?
  • Groups will present their questioning process and decision to the larger class.
  • Teacher will reveal “How the Editors Really Handle It” from The Newsroom Brain
  • Assessment: For homework, students will be given another ethical scenario. This time the scenario will be related to a high school dilemma. Again students will analyze the scenario using the Days 2 & 3: questions from the handout To Run or Not to Run? Multiple copies of the same scenario will be given in order to form discussion groups for the follow-up lesson. (Source: www.poynter.org Case Studies by Dr. Bob Steele) Ethical Issues and Student Press Law

Day 2

  • Motivational Activity: Students will meet with classmates who had the same ethical scenario to analyze for homework. Students will use To Run or Not to Run? as a guide to discuss their thoughts, reactions, and concerns. Groups should try to reach consensus about using this item/story. Groups will present their scenario with highlights from their discussion and decision to the larger class.
  • Teacher introduces Hazelwood case by giving scenarios for possible articles about teen pregnancy and effects of divorce on students. Class discussion about possible ethical issues in each scenario. Chart ideas on board.
  • Teacher informs students the two items they have been discussing come from a Supreme Court case concerning the right of a school to censor a story. Teacher gives overview of Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhlmeier including Tinker vs. Des Moines. Give diagram from Student Press Law Center.
  • Extended Assessment: For homework, students will read “Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier: A Complete Guide to the Supreme Court Decision” from the Student Press Law Center.

Day 3

  • Motivational Activity: Use “pair share” to get initial reaction to case followed by a large class discussion. Questions to consider:
    • Should a school principal have the right to censor a student newspaper?
    • What is you opinion of the Supreme Court decision?
    • Do ethics play a role in this case? Explain.
  • Group Activity (3-4 students per group)
    • Review the section “When is censorship by school officials now allowed” in the “Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier: A Complete Guide to the Supreme Court Decision” from the Student Press Law Center
    • Discuss your feelings/attitudes about these standards. Can you justify any of them as grounds for censorship? Why or why not?
    • Spokesperson from each group presents key issues/highlights of discussion
  • Extended Assessment: For homework, students will create a “top ten” list of rules for the ethical journalist. Developing an Ethics Policy

Day 4: And Beyond

  • Motivational Activity: Choose a partner and exchange “top ten” list of rules for the ethical journalist. Comment on your partner’s list. Are there any similarities? Would you add any of these to your list? Do you think this list is missing anything?
  • Class share of rules. Write rules on board.
  • Group Activity (3-4 students per group): requires several classes
    • Each group will develop a code of ethics for our school newspaper. Students should consider ethical and legal issues.
    • Resources will be available in class from ASNE and the Student Press Law Center as well as samples of ethics policies from other high schools and the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
    • Groups will revise, edit, and type ethics policy so it can be photocopied for a class distribution. Each group will present their policy to the larger class.
    • Extended Assessment: Students will discuss, compare, and contrast codes. Students will decide to adapt a code or merge together parts of codes to establish an ethics policy for our school newspaper.

Recommended Readings & Sources:

  • Harrigan, Jane T. The Editorial Eye. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.
  • Law of the Student Press. 2nd ed. Arlington, Virginia: Student Press Law Center, 1994.
  • The Newsroom Brain: A Working Guide to Journalism Decisions. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University, Educational Leadership Initiative of NMC, 1998.
  • Osborn, Patricia. School Newspaper Adviser’s Survival Guide. West Nyack, New York: The Center for Applied Research in Education, 1998.
  • www.poynter.org
  • www.splc.org


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