Law and Ethics
At Northwestern's Medill Journalism Institute, I attended at least four lectures surrounding ethics and the responsibilities we take on as journalists. Perhaps the most important element of law and ethics is realizing how essential an ethical code is to maintain a publication's credibility.
While Millard North journalists learn the basics of media law in journalism introduction classes, I felt it was necessary to have a more established set of rules. This way there's a system of checks and balances to ensure we are remaining objective and moral as reporters.
Creating an Ethics Code
Adapted from the SPJ Code of Ethics, the Millard North Journalism ethical code was established at the beginning of the 2020-2021 publication year for The Hoofbeat. In addition to the signing and acknowledgment of the code, every writer and member of the newspaper talked through a series of ethical dilemmas, in which they had to decide how to avoid potential ethical infringements as well as mitigate potential repercussions that come with publishing.
Leading discussions with the staff
When introducing this new code, I realized the importance of establishing a foundation of fundamental journalistic values before delving into ethics. A week and a half were dedicated to discussions and lessons involving the role of journalism, inclusivity, and intersectionality in media, as well as ethics.
For more examples of lessons, see Leadership and Team Building.
Practicing Ethical Journalism
The code and time spent discussing ethical situations provides a foundation for potential controversies regarding law and ethics. For example, our first In Depth of the 2020-2021 school year was focused on our school district's response to racial concerns. Millard alumni had drafted a letter to the superintendent and district officials addressing the bias and lack of diversity in teaching. As a staff, we had to decide the most comprehensive way of presenting this information. Firstly, we discussed the merits of contacting the authors of the open letter. Studying the letter and its signees, I realized all of the writers were Millard West alumni, most of whom hadn't been enrolled in a Millard school since 2016. We decided to not utilize them as sources believing their perspective of the district would be warped because they all originated from the same school.
We also gathered tweets many students and alumni had made over the summer, criticizing Millard Public Schools for their potential lack of intersectionality in curriculum. Originally, the In Depth cover was supposed to be a silhouette of the district building with one of the more inflammatory tweets shadowed on top. Taking a step back, I realized this image did not fairly represent the district as a whole and certainly didn't reflect the issues touched on in our In Depth. The cover shown to the right was designed instead. Every time an ethical dilemma comes up, I've found it extremely important to review information, assess its context, and always consult others.
Membership in NAHJ
In the past years, representation in every area of the professional world has been called into question, and journalism is no exception. Reading Soledad O'Brien's column in The New York Times was eye-opening. She describes the presence of this battle for racial equality as a "MeToo Moment for Journalists of Color". More importantly, there is a link between a lack of journalists of color and warped news coverage. We discussed this ethical issue as a staff; see Leadership and Team Building for the research and article discussed.
Involving myself in the National Association of Hispanic Journalists seemed like the best way to further educate myself on this topic. Participating in the association enhances my ethical understanding of the professional world of journalism. Through NAHJ's publication, palabra., many Latinx reporters are challenging publications regarding the underrepresentation of their staff. Ensuring a staff is comprised of diverse perspectives is an ethical must.