Forming a Code of Ethics

Richard Scholz
Valley Lutheran High School
Phoenix, Arizona

This unit is designed for a newly formed school news publication, or one which has not previously explored the topic of ethics, and has not previously created a code of ethics for its publication. A code of ethics can form a basis for what type of publication a newspaper is. A code of ethics can mean the difference between a serious news publication, a sleazy tabloid, or a humorous joke. It is for this reason that it is important for a code of ethics to be formed early in the formulation process of a student news publication.

Goals for Understanding:

  • Essential Questions:
    • What are ethics?
    • How does ethics apply to journalism?
    • How does ethics apply to student journalism?
    • Why is it important to consider ethics when producing a news publication?
  • Critical Engagement Questions:
    • What ethical dilemmas could a student publication face?
    • What ethical standards should a student publication be held accountable to?
    • What difference, if any, is there between the ethical standards of a student news publication, and the ethical standards of a major metropolitan daily news publication? Why is there a difference?
    • How does a code of ethics affect the day-to-day operation of a news publication?


  • Discuss ethics in general. What is ethics? How does it apply to news publication? Why is considering ethics important?
  • Have students break up into four groups. Have each group consider an ethical scenario. Scenarios may be taken from “The Newsroom Brain.”
    • Give the same scenario to two groups, and give a different scenario to the other two groups. This will give a way for each group to compare their response with another group.
    • Then, have students from all groups, share their scenario, and their response.
    • Repeat several times.
  • As a class, brainstorm other ethical dilemmas that the student news publication could possibly face.
  • Have students find at least three codes of ethics on the internet.
  • Have each group write a draft code of ethics for the news publication, considering both the scenarios that were discussed in groups, and the additional scenarios brainstormed in class.
  • As a class, take the four codes of ethics, and synthesize them into a single draft code of ethics.
  • Have each group take the draft code of ethics and use it to reevaluate the ethical dilemmas considered earlier in this unit. Does the code of ethics adequately cover all of the possible scenarios?
  • Adopt the final code of ethics as the official code of ethics of this student publication.


  • After adopting the code of ethics, give each student an additional scenario, and have them write a short essay discussing what they would do in this scenario, citing the newly adopted code of ethics in their response.

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