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press agent: A person hired to gain publicity for a client. The tactics used, often called press agentry, might include the staging of interviews or stunts designed to attract the attention of reporters. News Reporting & Writing (Eighth Edition) by the Missouri Group. Copyright 2005. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

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Lesson Plans

Student press law and ethics

Carolynne Knox of Ruidoso High School in Ruidoso, N.M.

Carolynne Knox
Ruidoso High School
Ruidoso, N.M.

Title: Student press law and ethics

This unit will take a practical approach to both the rights and the responsibilities of journalists in dealing with First Amendment issues. Additionally, we will consider ethical standards and the journalist’s understanding of responsibilities and rights based on the First Amendment and case law. High school students enjoy debate and application of rules. This unit will encourage students to marry ethics to rights. Additionally, we will consider the ethical responsibilityof diversity, what is it, what does it look like, what are its challenges?


Students will:

  • conduct research using data from in-depth field studies
  • synthesize information from multiple sources to draw conclusions that go beyond those found in any of the individual sources
  • use language persuasively in addressing a particular issue
  • find and interpret information effectively
  • respond respectfully to viewpoints and biases
  • demonstrate proficiency in accessing information electronically


Activity 1 – The First Amendment

  • Locate and analyze a copy of the First Amendment. Paraphrase the act and interpret its overall meaning
  • Research and define the Alien and Sedition Acts. Briefly summarize the acts. How does this information correlate with the First Amendment?
  • Read Brandenburg vs. Ohio, 1969. Summarize briefly the decision. What conclusions can you draw given the First Amendment?
  • Turn in the activity along with other work on Monday to earn points.

Activity 2 – The five elements of libel

  • Locate and define the five elements of libel
  • Give credit to the source you found the information
  • Define negligence as it compares to malice.
  • What are the defenses to libel? to malice?
  • Given this information, what are your responsibilities as a journalist?
  • Turn in the activity along with other work on Monday to earn points.

Activity 3 – Student press law

  • Locate and review the Tinker Case, 1969. Write a brief summary of the decision
  • Locate and review the Hazelwood Case, 1988. Write a brief summary and compare that decision with Tinker.
  • Which decision does RHS Today fall under and why?
  • For additional information and help with this question, go to http://www.splc.org
  • Read one article from the Student Press Law Center site, and write a brief summary of the case and how the First Amendment applied.
  • Turn in the activity along with other work on Monday to earn points.

Activity 4 – What are ethics?

  • Locate and review The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics and the codes of other organizations and newspapers.
  • For each of the four subheadings, write a brief summary.
  • Comment on what you have learned from this code compared to your perception of journalistic integrity in today’s society.
  • Write a personal code of ethics that includes at least two subheadings and eight statements.
  • Turn in the activity along with other work on Monday to earn points.

Activity 5 – The truth, Jayson Blair, and The New York Times

  • Locate and review at least three (you may have more) reliable sources regarding Jayson Blair.
  • Review briefly the cases of Steven Glass, New Republic and Janet Cooke, The Washington Post. How is Blair’s case the same or different?
  • Write a 2-page paper that includes a brief summary of your sources, your opinion, and what you have learned about the responsibility of journalists generally and editors specifically.
  • Turn in the activity along with other work on Monday to earn points.

Activity 6 – What is diversity and what does it mean to us? (30 pts)

  • Research to learn the ethnicity of Ruidoso High School, and Ruidoso, New Mexico
  • Go to http://poynteronline.org/content/content_view.asp?id=1187 and Select two topics to review. Write a one-page analysis and commentary on what you have learned.
  • Review last year’s newspaper issues for diversity, and prepare a brief summary on how we did.
  • Write a 10 point plan to diversify news coverage in RHS Today.


ASNE ethics code collection: http://www.asne.org/index.cfm?id=387
Clarence Cotton’s thoughts on diversifying the staff: http://www.highschooljournalism.org/teachers/tipsmulticulturalreporting.htm

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