Featured School Papers:

Know Your J-Jargon

future of journalism: Articles and information from leaders who are moving the profession forward.

Learn more J-Jargon »

Lesson Plans

Jonathan Goldstein
History teacher
Full-bio »

Lesson Plans

You Make the Call: The Ethical Dilemmas that Face Reporters Today

You Make the Call: The Ethical Dilemmas that Face Reporters Today

Jonathan Goldstein of Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore.

Jonathan Goldstein
Bryn Mawr High School
Baltimore, Md.

Subject: You Make the Call: The Ethical Dilemmas that Face Reporters Today

Description of School and Students
This unit is designed for senior high school students in Baltimore, Md. It is relevant for students of American history, American government, or a course on the media.

Generative Topic
Media Ethics and Privacy

Generative Object
People cover photo of Chelsea Clinton

Understanding Goals

  1. Essential or guiding questions
    1. What are the types of decisions reporters must make when pursuing stories about public figures?
    2. How do those decisions fit into the reporter’s responsibilities to his or her news organization, and to the public?
    3. Is there agreement in general about what the ethical role of the media is?
  2. Critical questions
    1. What is the role of reporters in making news judgments that are ethical?
    2. What should the boundaries of the media be?
    3. What guides a reporter as he or she makes an ethical decision?
    4. Is there a limit to the public’s right to know and the politician’s right to privacy?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale, and Time Line
In this unit on the ethical dilemmas that face reporters, the students will examine several hypothetical situations and come up with a set of standards to guide reporters. Later, activities will put their set of standards to the test.

  • Do they hold up in every situation?
  • Are there some circumstances where the choice is not at all clear?
  • In such cases, what is to guide a reporter?

Hopefully, the students will demonstrate an understanding of the responsibilities of reporters not only to the public’s right to know, but also to some obligation to respect certain people’s privacy.


  1. Case Study / Discussion of Rules Governing Reporters — Students will be divided up into groups and asked to read the case study by Susan Reed, Children of the president. The groups should discuss the situation for 10 to 15 minutes and come up with a solution to the dilemma. They will then present their decision to the class and state the reasons underlying their decision to find Chelsea or not. Hopefully, there will be differing opinions among the groups. A discussion will follow where the teacher will find out what guided the students in their decision. Who does the reporter ultimately answer to? Does the public have a right to know about Chelsea Clinton’s life?
  2. Reading — the People article about Chelsea Clinton Students will read the profile on Chelsea for homework and write short responses to their impressions of the role of that particular reporter. Did that article break the Gentleman’s agreement made with the President? If yes, what are the implications for the media’s relationship with the President? How is this article news? Would the students have written it given the choice?
  3. Debate — Public’s right to know vs. the reporter’s obligation to be ethical Divide the class in half. Each side will be assigned one viewpoint in a debate on the public’s right to know. Is it absolute? One side will say yes and come up with several examples supporting an absolute interpretation of the public’s right to know. The other side will think of negative examples. To close, a discussion of the roles and responsibilities of reporters will be based around the complex debate the students have just participated in. The teacher should emphasize that the reporters have legal, professional, and personal responsibilities to guide them in all of these decisions.


  1. Oral presentations — The students can be graded (using a predetermined rubric) on activities A and C. Students should know
    beforehand that their participation will be graded.
  2. Writing Assignment The writing assignment in activity B can be graded on content and presentation. Also, the students could be assigned several additional topics on which to write longer essays after the completion of activity C.

    Topics could include:
    • Writing a summary of the debate and justify one side or the other
    • Rewriting a longer version of the activity B assignment using the rubric of reporters’ legal, professional, and personal responsibilities’
    • Writing a letter to the editor of People magazine from the viewpoint of Chelsea berating them for their decision to publish.


People magazine story on Chelsea Clinton

Jonathan Goldstein’s lesson plan, "You Make the Call: The Ethical Dilemmas that Face Reporters Today" was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 1999, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 179.

Archived Lesson Plans »