Case Studies in Journalistic Ethics No. 1

Jennifer Seavey
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

Alexandria, Virginia


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 several scenarios in which illegal immigration has affected communities in the United States.
  • Debate the pros and cons of amnesty and illegal immigrant assimilation.
  • Consider a journalist’s responsibility and ethical concerns in reporting on illegal immigration.


  • Students will be assigned one article per table (4 in total) to read and then discuss the news story, the differing views of the story, and the possible alternatives to the situation reported.
  • Students will share their summaries and views with the class as a whole.
  • Teacher will read aloud Case 1 and take a vote on the three possible outcomes.
  • Teacher will read aloud Did the Story Go Too Far?
  • Teacher will lead discussion based on the three questions provided.
  • Students will weigh the different points cited in the Code of Ethics against their answers to Nos. 1-5 and consider how they can reconcile ethics with journalistic obligation.


  • Four articles taken from the Proquest database on illegal immigration (see below)
  • “Law of the Student Press”, chapter 3
  • Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics (


  • Badie, Rick. “Professor’s essay fuels immigration debate.” The Atlanta Journal-
    Constitution, March 13, 2004: JJ.1.
  • Cleeland, Nancy. “Ruling Aids Illegal Workers; Court says employers facing claims can’t
    ask about immigration status in an effort to block damages.” Los Angeles Times
    April 14, 2004: C2.
  • DeBose, Brian. “Illegal aliens push bills on tuition; Hill considers in-state benefits.” The
    Washington Times April 21, 2004: A 04.
  • Dinan, Stephen. “Bush ‘amnesty’ blamed for rise in illegals; apprehensions increase at
    U.S. southwestern border.” The Washington Times 16 April 2004: A01. (alternative)
  • Lichau, Eric. “As Border Woes Strain Arizona, U.S. and Mexico Talk.” The New York
    Times. March 29, 2004: A17.