Few high school journalists have a keen understanding of libel law, but not knowing may put your publication and reputation at risk. Do study up on libel, but you can also use these five tips to remember the main points of how to avoid libel.
Rights in Balance
Many yearbooks depend upon advertising revenue to sustain financial integrity. It is important they have policy that guides business operations, advertising content decisions and ethical judgments.
I start the school year with ethics as the number one focus. I have my students research news stories on the internet, finding incidents where students violated the rights of others using school media. This exercise enables students to see their legal responsibility as part of the school media, and to be careful with images. I also give an essay assignment, allowing students to pick from two sticky, ethical situations, and ask them to respond as to how they would handle one of them.
With technology and digital media evolving at an incredible rate, it is not surprising that journalistic ethics have struggled to keep pace. In the struggle, we have yet to arrive at one set conclusion.
In March 2001, a Los Angeles Times photographer who was covering the war in Iraq used Adobe Photoshop to combine two photos. The resulting image was printed on the front page of two newspapers. Less than a week later, the photographer was fired.
In some of these situations, it is clear that photojournalists or their editors made unethical decisions. In others, judgment is not so easy.
Journalism, whether written word or photographic image, cuts a window in which to see clearly the dark complexities of our world. Truth is the frame around that window. Without truth and the trust that derives from it, the noble profession and service of journalism in high school or society as a whole becomes a wasted exercise in killing trees.
Advisers need to set the tone for ethical standards on publication staffs, whether they use Photoshop or not. They need to work with editors to print a guidebook that sets the bar for legal and ethical issues.
In the past year, a photographer in North Carolina was disqualified from a prestigious competition and had to return his awards because it was found that he had over-darkened the background of his winning images. He also was suspended from his newspaper without pay. Professional publications are taking the misuse of Photoshop very seriously and so should everyone in scholastic publications.
Sports shots typically need a ball in the picture. By shooting 50 images at the game, I had four or five hitters with the ball close to the bat. Shoot a lot. Give yourself some choices in editing and you will not be drawn to the edge of an ethical cliff.