Here’s a summer assignment for leaders of the yearbook staff: revisit your publication policy manual, or create one if you are missing this important document.
In an effort to balance legal rights with what’s right ethically, it’s a good idea to adopt policies that guide the application of law and make provincial rules less arbitrary and more objective. Furthermore, a good policy manual builds staff morale and enhances performance potential.
The first thing you, as a student journalist, should know about the law is that you should know more than about the law. You also should understand the peripheral areas of the law.
For example, a yearbook editor may think the law protects his decision to include a photo of a student holding a gun in the yearbook. After all, why can’t a feature on student interests include a hunter and National Rifle Association enthusiast?
Sometimes, having the law on your side is not enough. You also may need to be proactive toward possible adversaries.
For example, let’s say you plan a yearbook feature about leisure activities, and you want to include an action photo of a student who is hunting. He’s pointing a gun, and you know that your principal may take issue with the coverage – a student using a weapon in the school yearbook.
In journalism class and on the yearbook staff, cover ethics first.
While understanding law – copyright, libel, invasion of privacy, obscenity, business issues, students’ rights – is important, good ethics help curb abuse of rules and the law and guide staff behavior toward noble goals. Ethics are the key in balancing student rights with responsibilities and respect.