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Teaching journalism: ethics of examples

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Turtle Wexler, Jan 16, 2011.

  1. Turtle Wexler

    Turtle Wexler Member

    Several of you are teaching or have taught journalism courses. I'm sure you use real-world examples or reference material in your lessons. A few questions:

    -- How did you obtain examples? Stuff you collected during your career? Did you ask journalist friends for examples?

    -- How do you credit these examples? Especially if it's a "bad" example and the person whose work it was would be embarrassed?

    -- Is it ethical to use an example gathered by another instructor? If I took their class and they gave a handout, could I turn around and use that in a class I teach?

    Are there any other ethical considerations to teaching journalism that go beyond normal academia ethics?

    I'm nowhere close to a classroom, but have had some discussions on the subject lately. Thanks for any feedback.
  2. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I had a teacher in J-school who would show us poorly written articles, byline and all, and rip apart why the article was bad.

    As far as crediting where you got the example, just make sure to say "A colleague used this example."
  3. My J-school ethics professor used real examples with bylines on stories and cutlines under photos, but few of them were local so nobody cared about who wrote it. Mostly she just said, "This example is from the Fresno Bee..." and let that be it. I certainly never looked at the bylines or, if I did, I never kept any of those names in my head.

    That said, I worked at the independent student-run paper, and she frequently used that as a bad example. It got particularly bad that semester because the paper's cartoonist drew up something nice and racially inflammatory right after Hurricane Katrina that led to protests outside our office and on campus, stories in a lot of papers about it and several mentions on Fox, CNN, MSNBC and their ilk.

    Fortunately I never did anything to land my byline in one of those Power Point presentations.

    On a side note, I like to print out really bad ledes and put them in a folder when I can. Every few months, when I'm feeling uninspired, I go through it and feel like I've got the velvet touch for a week after that.
  4. JackS

    JackS Member

    I use "bad examples" all the time. More than "good examples," in fact. Good is more subjective, IMO. But when somebody screws up, there's not much to argue, and it's very instructive.

    I teach research, so my examples are typically poor or non-existent research. For example, I was the guy who discovered the Rush Limbaugh screw up reported below, so naturally, I brought it to the attention of my class...


    Of course, Rush is an easy target, but when I've become aware of my own colleagues screwing up, I've pointed that out too. Nothing's off limits. I really don't care who made the mistake. The mistake itself is what's important.

    And speaking for myself, I wouldn't care if someone else "stole" my examples. They're public mistakes anyway.
  5. Johnny Dangerously

    Johnny Dangerously Active Member

    Good work, Jack.

    Did your boss reward you with dinner at Burger King? :D
  6. I remember there being a lot of examples that weren't good or bad, they were just everyday things. We would just kind of critique something and discuss what must have went into making a decision to print something or why a certain detail may have been left out of a story. On a few cases, they were local and we got the reporter or editor involved to come in and speak to the class. Those discussions were more helpful than the good/bad extreme examples.
  7. azom

    azom Member

    When I teach, I make an effort to bring in news that was published within a day or two of class to critique. I don't feel bad about showing a byline -- doing so lets students know that journalists have to be conscious that their work is going to be read, and critiqued, by readers every single day.

    I also make an effort to put some of my own work up, good and bad. Stories that look completely innocent at first glance end up being the starting points for some really interesting discussions.

    I don't usually make any kind of effort to show "good" or "bad" examples. I show average, everyday examples, then highlight the strengths and the weaknesses that I (we) see.

    As for other people's stuff? Use it. I see nothing wrong with prefacing the article with, "Another instructor showed me this..."
  8. My very first reporting class had a writing lab instructed by a guy who is now a columnist for a mid-sized paper and a major online sports site. First day of class he has us write a feature on the person sitting next to us. The next class he shows up with the worst example - mine - reads it aloud and, while laughing at how bad parts of it are, rips every line to shreds. Wash, rinse, repeat with another student's paper the next class. I've never had an editor or reader come close to doing that.

    The people who couldn't handle criticism never made it to the ethics course.
  9. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    I would just read them Albom columns, but that's me.
  10. franticscribe

    franticscribe Well-Known Member

    For me it depends on what kind of class I'm going to be teaching. If it's a newswriting 101 kind of deal, then I require them to read a local paper and we'll occasionally talk about stories in there as good or bad examples of something. I've also collected a few examples of good writing over the years that I share to help them, but I prefer they learn from seeing the local newspaper dealing with current topics.

    If I'm teaching an ethics class then I'll mix in some of my own personal anecdotes with those of colleagues that I have asked and some of the more famous scenarios that are out there. There are also lots of places to get case studies to use as examples. Indiana's j-school has a bunch online.

    For media law, we stick mostly to cases for examples, but I will sprinkle in some of my own personal anecdotes about being subpoenaed, fighting for records, etc.

    I don't worry about being critical of a professional writer, but I intentionally stay away from critiquing the student paper.

    As far as using someone else's handout, it's best to ask. I can't imagine someone saying no to a first-time teacher.
  11. azom

    azom Member

  12. BillyT

    BillyT Active Member

    We have a winnah!
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