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actual malice : Reckless disregard of the truth. It is a condition in libel cases. News Reporting & Writing (Eighth Edition) by the Missouri Group. Copyright 2005. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

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Justin Raisner
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Editorial Policy Webquest

Editorial Policy Webquest

Justin Raisner
Carlmont High School
Belmont, Calif.                                                                        

Title: Editorial Policy

Overview and Rationale

The  purpose of this lesson is for students to develop an editorial policy for the  school newspaper.  The policy will take into account legal issues, the  First Amendment, ethical choices, and censorship threats. As  an open-forum newspaper, students must decide and develop their own editorial  policy without input from the newspaper adviser.  Although the adviser can  guide the students to knowledge and information, the ultimate policy decisions  need to be made by the newspaper staff to maintain the newspaper’s “open-forum”  status. This lesson is designed for journalism students.   The information contained in this lesson includes legal  information and creation of an editorial policy.

Goals for Understanding

Students  will read research to help them develop an informed opinion of what should be  included in an editorial policy.

Students will become familiar with the following  concepts:

  • The First Amendment
  • Prior Review
  • Review California Ed Code 48907
  • Identifying sources

Overviews and Timeline

Activity 1:  (one 50 minute period):  Students need to read through the information in the following spaces to make an  informed decision about what will be appropriate to print in the school  newspaper.  Read the following articles: 

Activity 2: (two 50 minute periods): Come  to the following conclusions and draft a policy statement about editorial content for the newspaper. Consider the following questions:

  1. What are our journalistic principles?
  2. Who will make the content  decisions? 
  3. Will the paper be subject to prior review and what is the forum status?
  4. Will the school be allowed to  censor content it deems inappropriate?
  5. Under which conditions will you (or should you) use anonymous sources
  6. Should one other student on staff need to know the source for verification?
  7. Will the adviser know the name?
  8. At what point would we give up  the sources?
  9. Rights and responsibilities of  the student staff


  1. Letters to the editor
  2. Ad policy
  3. Use of others’ images
  4. Photo-manipulation

Assessment (One 50 minute period):

Students will each create a draft of an editorial policy for the school newspaper.   These policies will be the basis of a discussion and collaboration by students for the final editorial policy.

Recommended References:

Prior to teaching this lesson, students should be familiar with the following information:

  • Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School  District (1969) –   https://www.splc.org/law_library.asp?id=2
  • Hazelwood School District v Kuhlmeir –   https://www.splc.org/law_library.asp?id=1
  • Dean v Utica Community Schools (2004)
  • Utica Arrow- school district being sued by local  residents because the school buses were polluting the neighborhood because they  were being let to idle to warm up in winter.  The story written by the  paper only presented the facts – no bias, no judgment.  They also included  an editorial that suggested the school district should relocate the bus garage  for the benefit of the residents.  The article and the editorial were  censored.
  • Libel –  the publication of a false statement of fact that seriously harms someone’s  reputation
  • Invasion of Privacy – public disclosure of private or  embarrassing facts (certain details about people, even true, may be  “off-limits” to the press and public).

Resource:  http://tiny.cc/editorialpolicywebquest


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