“The Parker Weekly” Code of Ethics


Scholastic journalism best serves learners and the school community when students produce free and responsible news media by balancing rights and responsibilities, applying ethical prudence and advancing the best interests of young citizens and the school mission.

The focus of student journalists must always be aimed beyond their self-interests toward doing what is best for society. Their motivation should be driven by service, not ego.

Developing a sense of ethics is essential for student journalists, who learn to distinguish right from wrong and good from bad in their work. The power of news media can be used in good or bad ways, and young journalists must be nurtured to develop the self-discipline to choose what’s right and good — even when the right choice may cost something in the short run.

Although ethics is related to law, it differs from law in that law is socially determined and socially enforced. Law tells us what we can do; ethics, what we should do. What is legal may not be what is ethical. Having the right to say something doesn’t make it right to say it.  

Ethical choices often are not easy. Dilemmas occur when two “right” moral obligations conflict. For example, suppose a reporter lies to the editor about why she needs an extension on an important deadline. The editor comes to you, the staff member’s friend, seeking confirmation of the excuse that was given. Two moral virtues collide: loyalty to a friend and commitment to truth. It is time to weigh your values.

News media policy manuals may provide consequences for staff members who flagrantly violate the standards of ethical conduct, but a note of caution is in order. People of good intentions can disagree about ethical standards. Those who measure news media integrity must be careful not to impose their interpretation of an ethical principle as the one and only “right” interpretation.                 

In schools that practice democratic education, students have choices. Some choices may lack ethical integrity, betray the spirit of the First Amendment and fall at the very far edge of a protected freedom.  In such a case, the temptation to narrow that freedom may be great. But the temptation must be resisted.                    

The challenge for educators is to inspire students to be intrinsically motivated to abide by the highest standards of ethical conduct. That goal is best accomplished when school authorities focus more on mentoring than on clout, more on collaboration than on autocratic decision-making.                                  

Reputable conduct by student journalists helps secure the public trust and news media credibility. A code of ethics serves as the foundation for free and responsible student media.


1. Be Responsible.

(1.1)  Student journalists have an inherent obligation in decision-making to consider the values of the school community, the tenets of the school mission, the pedagogic concerns of school officials, and the wants and best interests of readers/ listeners/ viewers.               

(1.2)  Keep yourself, the reporter, out of print. It’s not about you; it’s about the readers/listeners/viewers you serve. For the most part, with the exception of some feature reporting and opinion reporting, student reporters and editors (as well as the faculty adviser) should not appear in the media they represent unless they are legitimate newsmakers. In those cases, the particular student journalists should have no influence on the coverage, and any conflict of interest should be disclosed.                                            

(1.3)  Strive for substantive stories that produce insight, generate accountability, and inspire reader interest and engagement. Do not yield to those who would suppress such insight or resist accountability.                                 

(1.4) Remember that protections of the First Amendment were created to serve not the press but rather the people, and as a journalist, guard the people’s interests above all others.

(1.5) Balance legal rights with ethical responsibilities. Having the right to say something doesn’t make it right to say it.

(1.6) Defend relentlessly the First Amendment rights of students. Protect relentlessly media advisers from recriminations brought about by their advocacy of student rights.

(1.7) Demonstrate credibility and exemplify trustworthiness, reliability, dependability, and integrity in and beyond journalism work. Your personal attributes affect the integrity of the news medium you work for.

(1.8) In covering stories about wrongdoing, be careful not to perpetuate misdeeds. Printing a photograph of malicious graffiti expands the vandal’s canvas.

(1.9) Do not allow vulgar or profane language to overshadow the essence of a story. If used, have compelling purpose and rationale to justify the audience’s need to read/hear vulgar or profane words. Consider alternatives.        

(1.10) Maintain a commendable work ethic—pursuing excellence, taking initiative, keeping to task, meeting deadlines, and taking care of the workplace and equipment. Inspire fellow staff members to do the same.

(1.11) Cultivate respect for your adviser, fellow staffers, school officials, and others. Nurture an effective working relationship within the staff and respect decisions made. Keep emotions in check. Support team effort in gathering and reporting news. Be loyal in protecting the best interests of your news medium.

(1.12) Know when to show restraint in pursuing stories. For example, a spontaneous demonstration in the cafeteria by three students protesting the in-school suspension of a friend may receive notoriety, but its news value likely is insignificant. Furthermore, coverage of the incident may bolster the participants and embolden others to disrupt the cafeteria too.

(1.13) Exemplify effective leadership through the power of performance rather than the power of position. Express genuine interest in every staff member. Be sensitive to other points of view. Inspire teamwork and intrinsic motivation. Prioritize mentoring over clout.


2. Be Fair.                   

(2.1) Begin the search for truth with a neutral mind. Do not prejudge issues or events; wait until the facts and perspectives have been gathered and weighed. Discover truth without letting personal biases or preconceived angles get in the way. Teach people to live by truth by presenting information objectively in a context that reveals relevance and significance.          

(2.2) Explore controversial issues dispassionately and impartially. Don’t go into a story with a personal agenda.             

(2.3) Justify coverage decisions by showing newsworthiness of story. Do not use your position with the paper to inflate your ego, favor friends, or advance other personal agendas that are self- serving. If you profile an “athlete of the week,” be ready to show the criteria and objective process for selection.

(2.4) Pursue a panoramic vision of issues and events to achieve balance and fairness. You may not know what the story really is until the story unfolds as you research it and talk with sources.

(2.5) Welcome diverse perspectives, especially those who might not otherwise have a chance to be heard, and welcome–particularly–rebuttals to editorial positions.           

(2.6) Refrain from “getting in the last word” by attaching an editor’s note to a letter to the editor. In rare circumstances, a clarification note may be justified.

(2.7) Take initiative to give subjects of allegations an opportunity to respond in a timely manner. Make a serious effort to contact those subjects before going with a story in order to allow a response.

(2.8) Label or otherwise clearly identify editorials, opinion columns, and personal or institutional perspectives.                   

(2.9) Disclose any potential conflict of interest by a journalist or news medium. For example, conflicts of interests could involve personal relationships with news subjects or sources.                   

(2.10) Appreciate the fact that at any given time a reporter sees only a part of what can be seen. Don’t jump to conclusions.


3. Be Honest.

(3.1) Do not plagiarize. Plagiarism is defined as the word-for-word duplication of another person’s writing or close summarization of the work of another source without giving the source credit. A comparable prohibition applies to the use of graphics. Information obtained from a published work must be independently verified before it can be reported as a new, original story. This policy also forbids lifting verbatim paragraphs from a wire service without attribution or pointing out that wire stories were used in compiling the story. Material that is published on the Internet should be treated in the same way as if it were published in more traditional broadcast media. Because plagiarism can significantly undermine the public trust of journalists and journalism, editors should be prepared to consider severe penalties for documented cases of plagiarism, including suspension or dismissal from the staff. Plagiarism is not only unethical, it is illegal if the material is copyright protected.                   

(3.2) Do not fabricate any aspect of journalism work without full disclosure (i.e. state that a hypothetical is a hypothetical.) The use of composite characters or imaginary situations or characters will not be allowed in news or feature stories. A columnist may, occasionally, use such an approach in developing a piece, but it must be clear to the reader that the person or situation is fictional and that the column is commentary and not reporting. The growth of narrative story development (storytelling devices) means that reporters and editors should be especially careful to not mix fact and fiction, and not embellish fact with fictional details, regardless of their significance.                   

(3.3) Identify yourself as a reporter and do not misrepresent yourself while engaged in news media tasks. For example, a source deserves to know if he is engaged in casual conversation with a student or more guarded conversation with a reporter. For another example, don’t misrepresent yourself by pretending to conduct an official survey for the school when in fact you are conducting it for the student newspaper.       

(3.4) Do not tolerate dishonesty of any staff member. One dishonest act of an individual can profoundly damage the reputation of a whole news organization. Be completely honest in reporting. Remember, half-truths can be just as egregious as outright lies.                   

(3.5) Stand by promises, including protecting the identity of confidential sources. Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Verify information given by an anonymous source. Be cautious in making promises; consult editors; take time to consider ramifications of promises; don’t be pressured.                   

(3.6) Be guarded about the credibility of sources and confirm questionable assertions. Do not be misled by insincere or unreliable sources. Journalists (not sources) are responsible for accuracy. Try not to make readers guess whether a source is sincere. For example, an untruthful or embellished Q&A response can taint belief in the sincerity of other contributors as well.                   

(3.7) Be cautious of using satire. Because it involves irony and sarcasm, it is often misunderstood. Because it usually involves ridicule, it could be carried to an inappropriate level in a school setting. Because special April Fool’s Day editions can damage a paper’s integrity and credibility, be especially cautious, and be clear that the edition is a humor issue.                   

(3.8) Do not electronically alter the content of news and feature photos in any way that affects the truthfulness of the subject and context of the subject or scene. Technical enhancements, such as contrast and exposure adjustments, are allowed so long as they do not create a false impression. Photo content may be altered for creative purposes as a special effect for a feature story if the caption or credit line includes that fact and if an average reader would not mistake the photo for reality. Strive to record original action in photos, and make sure readers are aware if a photo is set up or posed. Also strive to keep contributions in line with Parker’s community values and use discretion as to what is appropriate to include in an publishable illustration. The following items/subjects should be dealt with sensitively and should be avoided when possible: drug/alcohol paraphernalia, sexuality/nudity, explicit language, and anything demeaning towards a certain in-school individual/group.                    

(3.9) If using a recording device, get interviewee’s permission or make it obvious with the placement of the device that you intend to record. Honor their choice to be interviewed on and off the record. Be sure to provide necessary background and context for your interview.                   

(3.10) Know “journalistic truth” must be accurate, should promote understanding and should be fair and balanced.


4. Be Accurate.                  

(4.1) Remember that accuracy is often more than just a question of getting the facts right. Accuracy also requires putting the facts together in a context that is relevant and reveals the truth.                 

(4.2) Be a first-hand witness whenever you can. Be skeptical of what is said.  Gather raw facts. News releases, press conferences, official statements, and the like are no substitute for first-hand accounts and original investigation.                

(4.3) Review story to make sure information is presented clearly, completely, and in proper context that will not mislead the news consumer.                   

(4.4) Know your subject’s history to help measure his credibility as a source. If the subject has a reputation for embellishing information, make sure to verify information with another source.                     

(4.5) Be willing to read back quotes to check for accuracy. Sometimes a source may not be saying what he really means.  Do not, however, accommodate sources rescinding quotations for reasons other than accuracy.                     

(4.6) Record accurate minutes of student media staff meetings that involve policy decisions and other actions that will have a lasting effect.

(4.7) Tell not only what you know but also what you do not know. Invite a source or news consumer to fill you in on something he knows but you don’t.                   

(4.8) Engage in fact-checking every story. Train copyreaders to spot red flags and to verify questionable information.

(4.9) Be cautious about information received via the Internet. Not all sources are consistently credible, including sites such as Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, and Facebook. Verify questionable information by consulting other sources.


5. Be Independent.                   

(5.1) Recognize inherent differences between the professional news media and the student news media, and understand that the latter will always be subject to some oversight by school administrators. Show administrators how it is in their best interests and the school community’s best interests to recognize student independence, within the parameters of law, in controlling the content of their news medium.                                      

(5.2) Minimize prior review as a practice of administrative oversight in favor of less intrusive and more effective oversight strategies. Prior review dilutes student responsibility and puts more responsibility in the hands of administrators. Should the journalism experience teach responsibility or obedience?                

(5.3)  Hold no obligation to news sources and newsmakers. Journalists and news media should avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest.                     

(5.4)  Accept no gifts, favors, or things of value that could compromise journalistic independence, journalistic ethics, or objectivity in the reporting task at hand.                        

(5.5)  Declare any personal or unavoidable conflict of interest, perceived or certain, in covering stories or participating in editorial or policy decisions.                                               

(5.6)  Wherever possible, avoid covering groups or organizations to which you belong or in which you have particular interest.  Avoid putting down your note pad and camera to partake in an event.                       

(5.7)  Show courage and perseverance in holding school officials and other decision-makers accountable when student control of student news media is threatened. Remember, students who produce non-public forum news media still have some rights regarding content decisions.                     

(5.8) Give no favored news treatment to advertisers or special interest groups.                   

(5.9) Journalists should be prepared to recuse themselves in either journalism or government forums when decision-making could pose a conflict of interest.                   

(5.10) Do not use a byline for editorials that represent the opinions of the news medium.


6. Minimize Harm.

(6.1) Look beyond the likely impacts of each story, keeping alert to identify and respond to any unintended or undesirable consequences the story may hold in the shadows. Identify options for dealing with undesirable consequences. Determine if full disclosure of information may jeopardize student welfare unnecessarily; if so, decide what can be held back without jeopardizing the public’s right to know.                   

(6.2) Report immediately to school authorities any person who threatens the safety of himself or others.                   

(6.3) Consider options other than self-censorship when it is prudent to do so.                    

(6.4) Do not put student reporters in legal jeopardy or physical danger. Under-cover stories may be unethical and may pose significant risks. Student journalists must obey the law. For example, a minor student who illegally purchases liquor to show readers/ listeners which stores violate the law also incriminates himself. Covering volatile topics requires close faculty supervision and safeguards to protect student welfare.                   

(6.5) Be especially sensitive to the maturity and vulnerability of young people when gathering and reporting information. Take particular care to protect young sources from their own poor judgment when their comments can put themselves and others in jeopardy.                   

(6.6) Do not allow sources to use a news medium in malicious ways or ways that serve self-interest above the best interests of news consumers. Be on constant guard to spot clandestine efforts to publish inappropriate messages.                   

(6.7) Show respect and compassion for students who may be affected detrimentally by news coverage.                   

(6.8) Be sensitive when covering stories involving people in distress, and reject unreasonable intrusion by student media in their lives.                   

(6.9) Balance the public’s right to be informed with an individual’s right to be let alone.                   

(6.10) Understand and respect the different privacy expectations for private citizens, public figures, and public officials when covering issues and events.                   

(6.11) Unless granted permission by the administration, do not identify students accused of criminal acts or disciplinary infractions, as well as students who have been victims of serious crimes. Avoid naming minors. If a student is legally an adult, be ready to show a compelling reason for identifying the name. Relevancy and news value can constitute a compelling reason. Do not implicate by association. For example, do not say “a school secretary was arrested and charged with …” The reader could suspect any school secretary and could deduce the person’s identity.   


7. Be Accountable.                 

(7.1) Admit mistakes and publicize prompt corrections and clarifications.                  

(7.2) Expose unethical practices of student journalists and student news media, and make remedies.                   

(7.3) Use press passes for admission or special privileges only in the capacity of a working journalist.                   

(7.4) Provide news media consumers with opportunities to evaluate student news media.                   

(7.5) Be friendly and sincere in welcoming criticism and weighing grievances from news consumers.                   

(7.6) Have dialogue with student media overseers, and be prepared to justify decisions, policies, and actions.                   

(7.7) Keep notes and recordings of interviews as evidence of responsible reporting.

(7.8) Hold school leaders and administrators and other student media overseers accountable for their actions and decisions just as they hold student journalists and student media accountable for their actions and decisions.  Ask tough questions.                   

(7.9) Use the power of student media judiciously, and be prepared to provide rationale for any decisions or actions taken by news staffs.                   

(7.10) Keep sources on the record.  Use anonymous sources only if there is a compelling reason (such as a need to protect a source) and only if the information given can be verified through another, known source. When sources are not given, people may question the credibility not only of the source but also of the news medium.