2 Class Periods
A reporter/journalist is always addressing ethical considerations and potential ethical dilemmas. This is a good point to address with your students as they begin their journey into broadcast journalism. These ethical considerations can be as serious as national security or as seemingly non-threatening as publicly advocating a political candidate or accepting a small gift from a source. A journalist must always take this into consideration. A journalist must always be prepared to make decisions taking into account things such as the public’s right to know, potential threats, retaliations, personal integrity, conflicts between producers and management, and many other challenges.
Stress to students the “do’s” of accurate and ethical reporting such as fairness, context and truth. Stress the “don’ts” such as plagiarism, bias, deception, conflicts of interest, inaccurate reporting, poor judgment. Ethical dillemas may include anonymous sources, harm (whether intentional or unintentional) and misrepresentation. Define for students the meaning of libel and slander, as well as their ramifications.
Libel: Any written material that causes injury to reputation. False statements, cartoons and/or pictures exposing an individual to public shame, disgrace, hatred or ridicule, or cause a negative opinion of an individual are grounds for libel. Even if one person knows who the news story is about, it quantifies as libel.
Injury: Damage to the reputation of the libeled individual.
Fault: The individual (station manager, reporter, producer, editor) allowing the piece to be aired.
Slander: Spoken false statements damaging another individual’s reputation.
Obscenity: According to the Supreme Court, the basic guidelines of determining whether or not something is obscene include whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards" would find that the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."
Students will develop an understanding of the “do’s” in broadcast journalism
Students will develop an understanding of the “don’ts” in broadcast journalism
Students will learn the definition of libel, injury, fault, slander and obscenity
Handout “Lesson 2” (To be created)
Have the students explore, discuss and analyze different ethical situations and how they affect the decision of whether or not to cover/broadcast the story.
Write on the board “If it bleeds it leads.”
Ask students to write a short paragraph of what this statement means to them.
Explain to students now that the class has developed a code of ethics, it’s time to explore, discuss and analyze different ethical situations and how it might affect the decision of whether or not to cover/broadcast the story. Tell the students that in broadcast journalism, and throughout society in general, they will always be faced with difficult decisions that may affect or offend individuals or groups. Explain to the students the importance of taking all factors into consideration before covering a story and to really understand the lasting effects of a “if it bleeds it leads” type of story. Additionally, tell students that these types of scenarios don’t just apply to covering a story, but all aspects of broadcast journalism, including advertising and promotions.
Pass out “Handout 2”
Tell students that they will need to memorize and know vocabulary words, as well as what context they are used in broadcast journalism
Go over the vocabulary words
Read the first scenario on “Handout 2” out loud
Refer to the vocabulary words and identify which words might play a factor in the scenario
Tell the students why or why you wouldn’t cover the story (there are no right and wrong answers here – just be sure to always be aware of the effects a story might cause – and share this insight with your students)
Ask the students to informally share if they would cover/broadcast the story – call for volunteers and assure the students that there is no right or wrong answer
Ask students why or why not
Check for Understanding
Ask students to informally give examples of slander, libel, injury, fault and obscenity
Ask students what the difference is between libel and slander
Have the students break out in groups of four or five
Have each group choose one scenario
Have the group write why or why they wouldn’t cover the story
If they decide to cover the story, have students explain the story would be researched
Have them list the ethical considerations (have them refer back to their classroom code of ethics and/or the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics)
Have them write the pros and cons of covering the story, ask them to consider if the story would be cause for slander, injury, obscenity, etc.
Have the students select a speaker for each group and discuss their scenarios and decisions with the class (this can also be done as a separate lesson plan – have the students complete the assignment and then discuss during the next class)
Have students individually watch an evening newscast of their choice and choose one story that may involve ethical considerations. Name the network, the reporter and what the story was about. Have the student write whether or not the story should have been aired, what ethical considerations were involved and what, if any, ramifications (associate with the vocabulary words) could be associated with the story/reporter/network.
Integration into live broadcast
Ethical considerations, like ethics itself, will always be a huge part of your live broadcast. This lesson will prepare students on what is appropriate and what is not appropriate, as well as reinforce the importance of accuracy, truthfulness, slander, injury, anonymous sources, etc.