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undercover reporting : A technique in which a reporter pretends to be someone else in order to gain access to otherwise unobtainable information. News Reporting & Writing (Eighth Edition) by the Missouri Group. Copyright 2005. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

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Lesson Plans

Lessons to be learned: The importance of attribution, accuracy and honesty

Jennifer Seavey
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Alexandria, Va.

Title: Lessonsto be learned: The importance of attribution, accuracy and honesty


The course syllabus was modeled on “Media Ethics: Where do you draw the line?” case studies coupled with pertinent related chapters in the “Law of the Student Press” and various Web sites that promote better understanding of media ethics issues. My overall objective is to present real world examples of media law issues in short, palatable chunks.

Standards met

Each of my lesson plans addresses the following Fairfax County Public Schools Program of Studies objectives for high school journalism:

  • Objective 1: Develop an understanding of the importance of journalism in a democratic society.
  • Objective 3: Understand what news is and learn the importance of accuracy in reporting.
  • Objective 8: Develop an understanding of ethics of journalism and the regulations governing the student press.


Suggested Time Allowance: 170 minutes


Students will:

  • Consider the challenges faced by the journalism community in the face of several flagrant abuses of journalistic integrity.
  • Weigh possible solutions to these situations.
  • Learn the basics of copyright law and its scholastic companion plagiarism.
  • Revisit the importance of a code of ethics.


  • Students will read Janet Cooke’s feature without any introduction. They will be asked to respond to the writing, specifically to highlight the passages they find especially riveting. Why?
  • Students will then be asked to pose as Cooke’s editor. What verification questions would you ask? What seems unbelievable or just too good to be true?
  • Students will read two short articles from The National Review by Stephen Glass. They will be asked to highlight every fact in need of checking. What makes his writing so riveting?
  • As a class, we will discuss fabrication of quotes and sources, misrepresentation of facts and ways to ensure accuracy in reporting.
  • Students will view “Shattered Glass” and the “60 Minutes” interview.
  • Together, teacher and students will discuss the differences between Cooke, Blair, Kelley and Glass.
  • Students will read "Lessons to be Learned" from "Media Ethics" and react to the three questions posed regarding Mike Barnicle’s firing.
  • Students should consider the difference between journalistic plagiarism and academic plagiarism. Is there a difference? How does plagiarism piggyback copyright law?
  • Finally, students will review the Model Code of Ethics for Student Journalists and compare it to the professional dode. What are the similarities, and what are the differences?


  • Reproducible pages from Media Ethics.
  • “Shattered Glass” video and companion articles by Stephen Glass from The National Review
  • CBS “60 Minutes” interview with Stephen Glass
  • “Jimmy’s World” by Janet Cooke
  • Articles about Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley
  • "Law of the Student Press," chapter 15
  • Model Code of Ethics for Student Journalists from “Law of the Student Press”
  • Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, http://www.spj.org/ethics_code.asp

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