Case studies in journalistic ethics No. 3

Jennifer Seavey
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Alexandria, Va.

Title: Casestudies in journalistic ethics No. 3


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 the ethical decisions involved in publishing controversial/sensitive photos.
  • Become familiar with some of the most celebrated and most recent instances of photo publication decision-making.
  • Become familiar with award-winning photos and in the process, consider why they are considered the best of their kind.
  • Revisit the previous day’s discussion on how to report tragedy for the betterment of society or just plain schadenfreude.


  • Students will discuss the previous day’s homework reading.
  • Students will read aloud Case 3 “Should I publish this photo?” and take a vote on the three possible outcomes.
  • Students will then discuss “The Real Story” and its two companion questions.
  • Students view on the overhead TV examples of Pulitzer-prize winning photographs and discuss why they think they won the award.
  • At each of 4 tables, students will discuss 4 recent cases of controversial photo treatment in the press: captured American troops in Iraq (USA Today); returning coffins (The Seattle Times, Web sites, and subsequent publication in many city newspapers; Princess Diana’s car accident photos (public vs. private individual); and Fallujah mutilations.
  • Students will view news footage of the Fallujah killings taken from CNN.
  • Using Poynter online’s case story, “Covering Victims: Storytelling with Power and Respect,” students will examine both sides of the Kenneth Lyons photo of the dead body of 15-year-old Jeff “Shorty” Davis.
  • Students will weigh the different points cited in the Code of Ethics against their determined responses to the issues raised in #1-6.



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