An ethical framework for journalists
Granite Bay High School
Granite Bay, Calif.
Title: An Ethical Framework for Journalists
- Reproduce the Five Nearly Absolute Principles as either an overhead transparency or a student handout. (The source is University of Missouri professor Edmund Lambeth's book, "Committed Journalism.")
- Have students discuss what the principles mean in the context of the contemporary press, in terms of both the success and the failure to live up to these principles. (Or, have small groups brainstorm examples of how the press does and doesn't live up to these guidelines. You might have each small group take one of the principles and explain it, including a poster to illustrate the concept.)
- After the discussion/debriefing, ask students -- in small groups or as a class -- to decide what student newspapers should do, in light of Lambeth's principles, with each of the situations described below. (There are a range of possible responses, of course, many of which, although different, can still be considered "right." All of the situations have actually happened at U.S. high school newspapers within the recent past. I use them to spark discussions and to get student journalists to think about the decisions they must make and to consider the wider ramifications of their work.)
- I also throw William Greider's comments on an overhead and use them to spark discussions as part of this lesson. Feel free to use them as you wish.
Print it or not?
- In a story about abortion, a sophomore girl admits to having had an abortion as a freshman. She is willing to go on the record, but you suspect it's in part because she wants to get back at her parents, with whom she does not get along. Should you print her name? Should you print the story? What caveats do you have for the reporters and editors working on this story? What's the ethical thing to do?
- A teacher tells you something in an interview that she later asks you not to print because of her concern that her comments will result in her perhaps being fired from her job. She knows the comments were on the record, but she has since decided that the comments were inappropriate and inflammatory. Should you print her comments? What should the reporters/editors consider? What's the ethical thing to do?
- For a story about teenage pregnancy, a teenage mother identifies the father, who is still a student. He doesn't want his name in the story and is officially denying paternity. Should you print his name? What should the reporters/editors consider? What's the ethical thing to do?
- A school bus driver in the district has been fired for leaving the bus to, in his words, "protect a young student from danger" from an out-of-control parent at a school bus stop. You are investigating the story and have interviewed the driver, but school district officials are not talking to you. They also are trying to prevent you from printing the story. Should you print it? With or without comment from the district? What should the reporters/editors consider? What's the ethical thing to do?
- A reporter has learned, on the eve of the playoffs, that your championship football team is involved in serious incidents of hazing during the pre-season overnight football camp held on campus. Should you print the story? What should the reporters/editors consider? What's the ethical thing to do?
William Greider's Commandments for Journalists
- Be interesting.
- Do not lie.
- Be a trustworthy surrogate.
- Write in language that ordinary people use and can understand.
- Listen to people.
- Remember the old saying that "the job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
Five Nearly Absolute Principles
- Be a humane truth-teller
- Be heedful of the rights of others
- Do your work fairly
- Promote justice wherever possible within the limits of your craft/profession
- Be mindful that independence and freedom are possible only if journalism itself acts as a steward of free expression
From University of Missouri professor Edmund Lambeth's book, "Committed Journalism"